Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Frank stars Domhnall (that’s pronounced “Doe-nuhl,” everyone) Gleeson as Jon, a struggling songwriter and keyboard player who chances upon a gig with quirky band, The Soronprfbs (don’t ask me to pronounce that one), when their keyboardist goes off the deep end. That is, he tries to drown himself. When Jon’s asked to join the band by its frontman, he’s undeterred by both that suicide attempt and said frontman, Frank (Michael Fassbender), having a large papier-mâché cartoon head on at all times.
Jon leaves his boring office job when the band drives far out into the Irish countryside in order to record their next album. A process that involves making their own custom instruments as well as the occasional bout physical violence. Meanwhile, Jon catalogues their musical development across his various social media platforms so that even in seclusion, The Soronprfbs have a growing audience.
That this audience is unbeknownst to rest of the band is at the heart of the problem between outsider Jon and the rest of the band. Frank’s passion for being creative while sheltering himself from the outside world both geographically and within the head is supported by his band mates who are resentful of Jon, hilariously so in the case Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara the hostile theremin player, and ambivalent about completing their album in any sort of timely fashion. Jon pushing them to perform for the web saavy crowd at Texas’s South by Southwest festival is what ultimately brings their problems to a head.
Having Jon as the focal point for the film is a clever move as he, like us, gradually learns Frank’s head is not merely a quirky affection of an eccentric artist but a real crutch for a man with serious issues. Gyllenhaal’s Clara too gains more dimension as someone who may really just be trying to protect Frank from himself after all. Meanwhile Fassbender’s one of those actors who I could watch read a telephone book to be honest, and having a huge expressionless mask over his head for 98% of the running time is about as impeditive as that setup however he works all his remaining faculties to the advantage. From Frank’s curiously dorky wardrobe to Fassbender’s distinctly odd muffled voice–we’re told he’s from Kansas–Frank’s a fascinating character. The fleeting moments without the mask are truly compelling and Fassbender maximizes this screentime with a strangely damaged song performance.
None of the above not to say the film isn’t hilarious as advertised, which especially during their countryside training, it is. Rather that it treats its characters as real humans rather than caricatures. It’s a bizarre gem of a film that’s worth seeking out.
Frank opened today in New York and Canada with additional screening locations to be added in the coming weeks.