UK Release: May 9th 2014
Lenny Abraham’s ‘FRANK’, is based on journalist, turned screenwriter, Jon Ronson’s time as a band member with the Manchester comedian Chris Sievey’s ‘Frank Sidebottom’ character. Loosely basing itself on the character, and more inhabiting something else (for example ‘Frank’ is American here played by Michael Fassbender under a giant head) , comes the story of Domhnall Gleeson’s Jon Burroughs joining a band, including that of Maggie Gyllenhaal – which is lead by the enigmatic Frank. People expecting a biopic of the comedian might be disappointed here, as the film itself is more about someone who is a musician with a mental illness who is wearing a massive plastic head, which just has to look like that of ‘Frank Sidebottom’. This is something which Ronson has done before, twisting reality, you can see this with ‘The Men Who Stared At Goats’, with the idea they had psychic powers when really they were just prisoners held up for a political reason.
What you do get though is a character which does get the kinetic energy of the proper ‘Frank Sidebottom’ character, but also a haunting air of enigma as well, thanks to Michael Fassbender’s mesmerising performance (you can tell it’s him as it’s all about the hands). This ‘Frank’ character also has more in line to that of similar comic creation ‘Captain Beefheart’. The most interesting thing (and arguably the most excellent thing), is how it handles its tonal shifts from be some satirical, tortured comedy (which the film was marketed as), and it being able to effortlessly go into drama, with a surprisingly interesting exploration into mental illness. This is a credit to director Lenny Abraham, whose 2011film of ‘What Richard Did’ arguably prepared him for this. It is also impressive with how at times utter random madness on screen, feels oddly coherent as well.
The film also has some interesting messages about the music industry as well. Not only does ‘Frank’ here inhabit the myth of the ‘’tortured artist’’, it also is a discussion into what music is like when it becomes commercialised. You have this Jon character coming into Frank’s band and thanks to online social media activity (which it explores here), is making the band into something which they aren’t and that is welcoming them to the maddening world of the music press. From the title graphics there is certainly a throwback to great concert films of ‘This is Spiral Tap’ and ‘Quadrophenia’, however this more about a music subculture like the one explored in the 2012 ‘Glastonbury’ documentary series on BBC Four. There is also an interesting look into the perception of creativity which I’m positive film students could write a essay about on this film. Regarding the whole ‘’vessel’’ into this world of the film and band (and this films version of Jon Ronson ) Domhnall Gleeson brings a likeability to the screen, with a range of innocence to intensity very well (just like a young Richard E. Grant), with these talents you see why he has been casted in the new ‘Star Wars’.
On a whole this is a great package, while it might not what you expect, either if it’s a biopic of the actual ‘Frank Sidebottom’ or some laugh-out-loud comedy as the trailer suggests, you have something very deep, and fresh at the same time. You also get arguably the best soundtrack of the year so far (‘I Love You All’ by Michael Fassbender is haunting as it is anthem which gets stuck in your head). This is certainly something which will get a cult following, and is something which I think is a rare achievement in regarding to balancing the comedy and drama elements. To me this is one of the cinematic gems of the year so far. Worth checking out!