Movie Review: “Frank” – Fassbender Ultamasked

Written by Spencer Sterritt September 17, 2014

Frank, Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal When you have Michael Fassbender, one of the most attractive and famous men in the world as your leading man, generally the first instinct wouldn’t be to hide his face for most of your movie. Lenny Abrahamson, director of Fassbender’s new film “Frank,” clearly has different instincts than everyone else; Fassie acts from inside a huge paper-mache head for nearly all of this enigmatic, weird, and deeply melancholic film about heroes and the creative process.

Frank, loosely based on Frank Sidebottom, is the lead singer of the Soronprfbs, a weird indie band that recruits the young and wanderlusting Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) as their latest keyboardist. The sprawling band decamps to a cabin in the middle of nowhere to record their first album and capture Frank’s vision. “Frank” features all of the staples of a band story, as creative differences and obsessions threaten to fracture the band, but through Abrahamson’s filter everything is given a quirky angle that keeps the material fresh.

“I could make a whole album out of this one sound.”

Though Frank leads the Soronprfbs Jon is the main character as he tries to fit in and take his creativity farther than the edges he knows. Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan, is just as magnetic a front man as Fassbender, and keeps the movie grounded. He also holds his own in the ensemble scenes of the rest of the band, filled out by Scoot McNairy, Maggie Gyllenhaal and a whole bunch of no-names. With “Star Wars Episode VII” on the horizon, and higher and higher profile projects on his resume Domhnall is well on his way to leading man territory, and could prove to be one of the future’s biggest stars.

Frank, Domnhall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy

Quirky indie movies can quickly get out of hand, as things become odd and supposedly cute just for the sake of it, like in “Garden State” or “Juno.” Thankfully “Frank” avoids this by never forgetting where Frank’s oddness comes from. It’s clear fairly early on that Frank’s eccentricities stem from mental illness, and the last third of the movie takes a turn for the bummer to remind audiences about the links between creative genius and mental illness and depression.

“Sooner or later you’re gonna get the feeling, ‘why can’t I be Frank? Maybe I can be Frank.’ But Jon, there’s only one Frank.”

Unfortunately this last third stands at odds with the preceding hour and ten minutes, which satirizes music and psychedelic bands in a digital age. The band members, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal’s irksome theremin player Clara, are held up to the light to expose how put upon their affectations are.┬áNo bones are made about how empty celebrity is, and how adoration often comes from jealousy rather than respect. As “Frank” winds down and it starts to show how everyone in the Soronprfbs needs each other, it doesn’t jive with everything that came before it. There are interesting ideas hidden in the last twenty minutes, about narcissists needing other narcissists, and how musicians and artists become swallowed up by their carefully cultivated image, but none of those ideas are taken fully advantage of.

Frank

Many low-key and off-kilter indie movies flub the last third, but “Frank” is one of the few films that isn’t completely ruined by the experience. The movie has a strong through line or melancholic weirdness, so the bummer last act does not come completely out of nowhere. Though it might not be perfect there’s certainly nothing else like “Frank,” and you’ll never be able to get the image of Michael Fassbender wearing Frank’s mask out of your head.

My Rating: 8/10

Frank

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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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