Running time: 95 min
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamso
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson & Maggie Gyllenhaal
BASED loosely on Jon Ronson’s memoir of the same name, Frank is an adventure through creativity, illusion, mental health issues, the power and allure of possible fame and there’s a little bit of music and indie-band politics thrown in for good measure.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson of Adam and Paul success and the 2012 critically acclaimed What Richard Did, this next full length feature will attract a lot of attention from those with an interest in Irish film. This collaboration between the IFB, BFI and Channel 4 Film takes the viewer from the leafy suburbs of non-descript southern England to the battered isolation of a fictional lakeside chalet somewhere in the ROI, to the expanses of America’s southern states. And that’s just geographically.
The plot is at first quite predictable: wanna-be keyboard player and songwriter meets band of misfits as a member is trying to drown himself in the sea. With an eye for opportunity and sick of the hum-drum of call-centre existence, our guide and narrator through the next one-and-a-half hours, Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson pounces on the chance to perform with the band that night. Gleeson of stage and film releases such as his Tony Award winning performance in The Lieutenant of Inishmore to roles in Harry Potter and Boy Eats Girl performs briefly with the ill-tempered band in a glorious opening scene which arguably will not be out-foxed this year.
And so onto Frank, paper-mache head wearing, musical genius just the wrong side of sanity, expertly played by Michael Fassbender. Fassbender, notable for his roles in Inglourious Basterds, X-Men and his outstanding, Oscar Award winning role in last year’s 12 Years a Slave, brings levels of chaos, comedy, and for a masked man, a touching amount of heartfelt sincerity to role of the band’s founder and spiritual heartbeat. Signs of the intimacy going on behind the head behind the head is Frank’s descriptions of his facial expressions as he’s talking to his adoring menagerie of disciples. In another scene where a foreign couple turn up to relieve the band of their summer house – the rent hasn’t been paid – the enigmatic Frank springs into effortless German and soon has the woman dancing round the front field before thanking him for changing her heart. Nothing it seems can or will faze him.
Add to this a brutish performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, The Dark Knight), playing the cynical and clinical Clara; a French bassist who can barely look at our hero Jon; a drummer of no name who plays an equally responsive bit player, and a superb performance by Texas born Scoot McNairy (Argo, In Search of a Midnight Kiss) playing Don, Jon’s confidante and would-be mentor and we have perhaps the strangest motley line-up every to have graced stage or screen. Practicing 14 hours a day for 11 months, the band is at last about to begin recording. With cash running out, inter-band fault-lines cracking and a sudden and Jon arranged media campaign, the band is brought to the grand ole U S of A. What could possibly go wrong?
Suicide, Viking style burning boat send offs, traffic accidents, a stabbing, the collapsing minds of n’er-do-wells and psychotic ramblings and almost shows bring the band and each member to their knees.
Thankfully we’re saved from a nauseating Hollywood ending, Ronson and Abrahamson are too clever for that. Closure of sorts is achieved. This film is one hour and 35 minutes of intrigue, and more importantly of how we all wear masks either literally or metaphorically in order to find ourselves. This film could have been based on any scenario, thankfully they chose the universality of music and camaraderie of a fractious gang of misfits. I wouldn’t say I love this film on first viewing: there’s something jarring about it. But it’s a DVD keeper, one to analyse another few times to get every nuance squeezed out. In the meantime go and watch this film, if even for the hilarity and pure weirdness of the opening scene and of many more that follow.
4 out of 5 Nerds