Published on May 11th, 2014 | by Allan Brown0
Movie Review: Frank (2014)
Running Time: 95 mins
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Carla Azar, Francois Civil
Despite directing smaller projects on and off since 1991, Irish film maker Lenny Abrahamson (Garage, What Richard Did) is still relatively unknown in the wider industry. Frank however, although a low key indie picture, will likely find a wider audience with its impressive roster of Hollywood talent, thus marking Abrahamson’s first major release.
The film is loosely based on journalist Jon Ronson’s newspaper article and personal memoirs of the cult musician/comedian, Chris Sievey. During the 1980s, Ronson played the keyboard in the ‘Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band’ in which Sievey wore an oversized papier-mâché head to conceal his true identity. As the legend goes, only the band and close friends knew who was under the bloated, Dora the Explorer-esque head.
The film is a music apprenticeship of sorts and like Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous before it; it culminates in a voyage of self discovery, all be-it, an extremely wacky one.
We follow Jon, who when not working his 9-5 pushing keys in a dismal office block somewhere in little England, labours tirelessly on creating music, forcing inspiration from wherever he can, namely his daily commute. Despite Jon’s talents untested and relatively unheard, he receives his big break upon snatching an opportunity that presents itself due to the misfortune of another. And just like that, he finds himself thrust into the music scene as chief keyboardist in the eccentric pop band the Soronprfbs.
Despite its initial allure and comedic outbursts, the film soon becomes lost in its own cocktail of clashing tones.
The band, whose madcap style of music falls somewhere between The Doors and Joy Division, are comprised under the foggy direction of band manager Don (Scoot McNairy), antagonistic theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), French couple – Bassist Baraque (Francois Civil) and Drummer Nana (Carla Azar), Keyboardist Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) and then of course there’s Frank (Michael Fassbender), the brains and driving force behind it all.
And so, Jon’s gleeful dip into the creative world he so desires , exposes him to some home truths and hard lessons in a journey that see’s him venture from suburban England to rural Texas in what essentially becomes his story and their story, of how music and art is born.
Frank is a film that delivers bags of charm in its offbeat mix of quirkiness, comedy and colourful characters. However, despite its initial allure and comedic outbursts, the film soon becomes lost in its own cocktail of clashing tones.
What starts as a punchy story of a bands ill fated journey to record a new album, soon becomes a laboured, yet whimsical drama about mental health. However, with little time spent developing the subject and its title character, it becomes nothing more than an acknowledgement, a throw away side note to a bigger idea, that ultimately becomes the catalyst to the films undoing.
Gleeson does a fantastic job as narrator and chief protagonist. His insights, experiences and ponderings into this new found world provide much of the films laugh out loud moments. His character is not only the most likeable, but thankfully the most fleshed out amongst its other more one dimensional members and his personal voyage of is perhaps the strongest and most rewarding element of the film.
The rest of the cast deliver well even though the characters they portray are mostly a catalogue of genuinely unlikeable fellows, likely making it hard for the audience to adopt them. Frank remains a gentle yet curious chap throughout, and although this was perhaps Abrahamson’s intention from the start, the mask and wall Frank throws up, sadly keeps him more of a background and always at arm’s length.
Summary: What starts as a fun and energetic indie comedy, sadly loses its way upon its tragic third act. As its upbeat tone and pace disappears, so does a lot of its charm and likeability, as it drags itself to its endearing, yet altogether misplaced conclusion.