There is much to recommend this film which explores the creative process; only part of that is a very real pleasure in watching award-wining actor Michael Fassbender successfully act his way out of a paper-mâché head.
This British-Irish comedy-drama tells the story of a pop-band (known on screen by the unpronounceable name, Soronprfbs), as experienced through the eyes of a young, aspiring musician called Jon (Domhnall Gleeson). Jon is invited to join the music group, which is led by an eccentric and enigmatic figure called Frank (Michael Fassbender).
The word ‘eccentric’ is highly appropriate to this movie, because almost throughout the entire film, Frank wears a giant paper-mâché mask. He chooses not to take the mask off, either on stage or off it, in the shower or in bed, and even while eating.
The film itself is a fictional account loosely inspired by the character of Frank Sidebottom, which was the persona of cult musician and comedy figure, Chris Sievey.
On stage, Sievey played Sidebottom in a giant mask, and the final credits to the movie tell us that Sievey's ‘big fake head inspired the film.’ Punk in spirit, the film has been described as a ‘whimsical delight.’ A better way of describing it, is ‘weird.’
When Jon joins Frank's group, he has no pop skills. He is judged to be uninspired, and the group hates his music. He ends up with the band spending his money while it records a pop album in the forests of Wicklow, Ireland. Lenny Abrahamson, in his direction of the film, uses the character of Jon to take us into Frank's musical world - it is a world filled with surrealism, oddness, and originality.
Jon becomes the dramatic mechanism for us to understand Frank's bizarreness, and we learn much about Jon as well. He becomes part of a struggle to control Frank by himself and Frank's fiercely aggressive band-partner, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is in love with Frank. With all of the film's oddness, the movie creates highly distinctive comedy moments along the way.
Many of its comic scenes involve Clara, Frank, and the band's burnt-out and disillusioned manager, Don (Scoot McNairy). With Jon's assistance - not widely appreciated by all the members of the band - the group's recording efforts become an internet sensation, and trouble follows when Frank is unable to handle the stress.
Fassbender, the actor behind Frank's mask, gives an outstanding performance. He has acted in a number of highly compelling dramatic movies of exceptional quality that include 12 Years a Slave (2013), Shame (2011), and Hunger (2008) - the three main movies of the award-winning director, Steve McQueen. In this movie, with his never-changing mask in place, Fassbender uses physical body movements to convey both mood and intent. His prowess in doing this is terrific to watch, and his performance lies at the heart of the movie's creative maelstrom.
In an original way, the film conveys the creativity that lies behind the artistic process of making music. The actual music, which is performed live by the film's cast, may not be to everyone's liking, but the creativity responsible for making the music happen is captured wonderfully well by the film. At a different level, the film forces the viewer to contemplate what is the dividing line between the creative process and moments of complete madness. The movie asks the question: Does creativity in some fields of artistic endeavour - perhaps like this one - mean that such a dividing line has to be bridged?
Through ambition and misunderstanding, Jon almost wrecks the band, and there is a final dramatic and very moving scene in the film, where Frank, with mask off, dramatically sings "I love you all" as his band picks up on his improvised beat and joins him in the music that he has begun.
This movie is entirely quirky. It captures dramatically and comically the spirit of a group of highly unusual musicians, and the film is all about giving expression to genius in a totally non-conforming way. The appeal of the group's music doesn't really matter. The main point of the movie is to illustrate what happens when creative minds energise the process of making music.
This is a poignant, funny and affecting film that contradicts any normal conceptions of reality one might have. Some rough language aside, which has earned the film a fairly tough classification rating, the movie is stimulating, entertaining, and highly original.
- Reviewed by Peter W. Sheehan, associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Frank, starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Rated MA 15+. Restricted (strong coarse language). 95 min. Madman Entertainment. Showing now.