Frank review – a weird, wonderful movie that dances to a different beat | Frank | The Guardian
if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you transplanted captain beefheart’s method and daniel johnston’s insanity onto frank sidebottom’s gigantic papier-mâché head (and frankly, who hasn’t?), then this surreal – and yet poignant – comic book weirdness has the answers. Reversing the frame of Chris Sievey’s madcap creation with the tortured soul of avant-garde rock, Frank manages to get under the mask and skin of his eponymous antihero in a way that bridges the gap between absurd laughter and all-too-cute tears. The result is something weird, wonderful, and utterly unique: a classic unraveled that takes its place alongside the barbie doll animation superstar and the conjoined twin brothers of the mockumentary headliner in the pantheon of genuinely unexpected pop movies. p>
Frank’s roots lie in a newspaper article by Jon Ronson detailing his time as a keyboard player in Frank Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey Big Band. As with The Men Who Stare at Goats, Ronson’s real-life reporting provided the springboard for a screenplay (co-written with Peter Straughan) that weaves tall tales from facts stranger than fiction. To be clear: This is not Frank Sidebottom’s story, in the same way that Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There was not a Bob Dylan biopic. rather, he inhabits an alternate universe in which mimicry and tribute (the film is dedicated to Sievey) form their own kind of strangely honest (un)truth; in which the characters try on each other’s clothes, haircuts, and heads as they strive to be someone else; and where it’s not entirely unusual for someone to be sexually attracted to mannequins.
The film’s closest link to “reality” is the faux-naivety of aspiring pop star Jon Burroughs, played by Domhnall Gleeson, a Ronson-esque narrator who winds up playing keyboards for the unpronounceable soronprfbs after the headline before he tried to drown himself in the sea. Summoned to Ireland, Jon finds himself a willing prisoner in the rehearsal and recording of the band’s new album, a year-long process that references legendary trout mask replica tales. Fascinated by the fake head that gang leader Frank wears 24/7 (“Would it help if I said my facial expressions out loud?”), Jon is both seduced by the conundrum of guru from her mentor as well as from the undulating hands of theremin player Clara (maggie gyllenhaal), who seems able to conjure beautiful sounds and wild weapons out of thin air with equal ease.
Getting the performers to actually play the music pays dividends, with songwriter stephen rennicks leading the cast through songs that range from oblique (like a lone foot tuft, an ode to a lost carpet thread) to the hilarious (the most endearing song – “people will love it”) to the heartbreaking (I love you all, which is already a haunting indie classic). From the chaos of an opening gig in an English seaside town, to the anarchic creativity of rehearsals in Ireland, and the last-minute “new direction” of a terrifying appearance at sxsw in texas, soronprfbs’s array of looks and sounds like a “real” gang trapped in a world of surreal struggle. While the individual characters may be beyond eccentric, the horrors of a touring band are just as recognizable as the home truths of spinal taps (you can almost hear David St Hubbins exclaiming: “too much perspective”).
michael fassbender carries the heaviest load, liberated (rather than burdened) by the uncomfortable mask that proves his character’s liberation. Infusing Frank Sidebottom’s finger-touching pantomime with the pathos of Daniel Johnston’s nervous tactility, Fassbender evokes a whole character (of America instead of Timperley) whose expeditions to the brink of sanity call into question oft-repeated clichés about the genius of madness (and vice versa). With his facial expressions obliterated by Frank’s unflinching gaze of astonishment (and his voice muffled by the eggshell tone), Fassbender is forced to speak with his body, his posture and gestures precisely attuned to the complex tragicomic twists of the story.
It takes a director of some talent to prevent such an extravagant undertaking from becoming a mere extravagant indulgence, and Lenny Abrahamson rises to the challenge magnificently. from the beckett-inflected riffs of adam & paul to sociopathy tamed from what richard did, abrahamson has proven to be an astute observer of “borderline” behavior. it’s hard to find a goofy performance in any of his films, and false notes are few and far between. here, he orchestrates the key shift from silliness to sadness with an elegance that means we never notice the sly introduction of a narrative minor third. As Frank peels back the layers of his subject’s onion facade to reveal a piper at the Gates of Dawn below, our own smiling expressions begin to falter. And while a lesser director would have been content to leave us amused and amazed, Abrahamson says we’re moved too.
while frank may not be for everyone (just like sidebottom, beefheart and johnston were never top of the charts), for those who like their movies to dance to a different beat, it’s pretty rare .
You know it is. it really is.