Boy, I love going to screenings where the filmmakers are present. They offer so much insight into what we watch. And I especially love it when like in this case, they reaffirm some of my thoughts of the film.
Last week, I had the pleasure of catching Lenny Abrahamson’s latest feature, Frank, in a sneak peek/Q&A session with the director himself. But before I get too involved in a discussion of the film, two things – 1) I liked Frank and 2) consider yourself warned – this is not a film suited to everyone’s taste.
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), our way into the story, is an aspiring musician who cannot seem to find his way. In a ‘creative rut,’ he has a chance encounter with Soronprfbs (don’t try to pronounce — seriously, don’t attempt it), a band playing a local gig, who just happen to be in need of a new keyboard player and so joins.
The band is led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a fake head (see above); it is an understatement to say Frank has a rather interesting approach to spearheading the band’s creative endeavors. After being with the band for some time and coming to terms with his talent deficit, Jon decides his job is to raise this avant-garde group from the depths of obscurity into stardom. One major obstacle to him accomplishing this is his fraught relationship with the other members of the band, lead by theremin-playing Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
What struck me about Frank is the sharp shifts in tone; for the first three quarters of Frank, the audience is caught up in rapturous fits of laughs as a result of the absurdity on display of this band’s machinations.
What happens in the final act, however, is a bit jarring. At this point Frank decides to challenge the notions of the viewers and expose us to a raw, emotional truth. As Abrahamson takes us down this road, I felt myself going with him, even to the point of being quite moved by the time the final credits rolled.
Kudos to everyone involved with this project for bringing what on its surface would seem to be an impossible story to the big screen and making it both enjoyable and accessible to its audience. As the titular Frank, Michael Fassbender’s performance is an interesting one; in it, he has the tricky task of animating a character without the use of his facial expressions, and somehow it works and is not distracting.
Unfortunately for me, I have not been exposed to the musical influences referenced as informing the movie (Frank Sidebottom / Chris Sievey, Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart), save for what was revealed to me in interviews with the cast and crew. While this contextual information is fascinating, I do not feel it is essential to one’s enjoyment of the film. Rather purposely, the filmmakers, including co-writers Jon Ronson (screenplay for Frank is based on his memoir) and Peter Straughan, seemed to have taken the source material and broadened it out to not only explore the characters but to also take a look at other themes such as artistry, mental illness and their intersection.
I could not let it pass without briefly mentioning the music in the film. Everyone is actually playing their instruments and singing their songs (rounding out the band are professional musicians: Carla Azar on drums, and French actor/musician Francois Civil on bass). According to the press notes, the music performed was recorded live; that is quite an achievement. But, as for the actual sound? I will leave it up to you to decide how to classify it. But heed what director Abrahamson said during the post screening session – it is neither good nor bad. To intentionally make the band horrible, he continues, would be rather cliche. I tend to agree. Personally, I like to think that the musical sound resides in some abstract, obscure place.
So like I said in the beginning, Frank is not a film for everyone. From the offbeat presentation, to the music and the dramatic turn in the closing stages of the film, this may be a bridge too far from some moviegoers. Which is fine, but know that you are potentially missing out on a film that may surprise you in its ability to entertain you.
Frank opens today (August 15th 2014).
Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures