Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published June 22nd 2014
The most original comedy in years
Director: Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy
A budding singer/songwriter lacking inspiration gets more than he bargained for when the enigmatic lead singer of an avant-garde rock band crashes into his mundane world in Frank, a lively, loopy and thoroughly invigorating comedy from Ireland.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson play dysfunctional band members
Twenty-ish Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is striving to write his first decent song, but his attempts are stymied by the fact that he leads a very average existence. He still lives with his Mum and Dad and tweets about such things as eating a panini (to his 14 followers). One day he witnesses a man attempting to drown himself at the local beach, then discovers the guy is the keyboard player for an emerging rock band. A brief exchange on the beach with the band's manager Don (Scoot McNairy) results in Jon being offered the chance to play with the band at a gig that night.
With no indication of what he's in for, Jon walks on stage to what turns out to be both organised and disorganised chaos. The discordant noise would be enough to test anyone with a taste for experimental music, but before the small audience can register much of a reaction, an electrical short-circuit in the opening number brings the set to an abrupt end. Despite the disaster though, Jon is transfixed by lead singer Frank, who wears a large fake head resembling Frank Sidebottom - a cult fictional comedy figure of the 1980s.
Jon soon learns that the unnerving, spheroidal fake head is not a stage act but a part of Frank's everyday life. The head is Frank's coping mechanism for a mental illness, and in fact he's not the only member of the band with psychiatric problems.
Upon Frank's invitation, Jon joins the band for a retreat to the countryside to cut an album. While this is an exciting opportunity for Jon to see the creative processes of a true maverick, he also has to deal with the hostilities of the other band members, most notably Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who takes a particularly aggressive attitude towards Jon.
Anyone expecting a formulaic conclusion where Frank teaches Jon to be a musical genius, Jon brings stability to Frank's world and the whole band unite in harmony should be quashed right now. Frank the film is no more likely to conform to genre rules than Frank the character. This is one completely original film where nothing and no-one can be taken for granted.
For a film dealing in part with mental illness, this is surprisingly funny stuff. It's consistently irreverent, and when serious events happen, there's no cheap attempt at sentimentality. Most of the jokes are at the expense of Jon, the "normal" guy in the group. Gleeson's natural likability in front of the camera is used to great effect. We ride the roller-coaster with him and he makes it a very enjoyable ride.
Gyllenhaal is hilarious as Clara, recalling Yoko Ono both in her experimental vocal performances and in her protective instincts towards her uniquely gifted musical companion. As Frank, Fassbender may have his face concealed inside an artificial head, but he conveys much with his body movements and charismatic voice.
Ultimately Frank does what a lot of the best comedies do, it draws you in while you're laughing and takes you to unexpected places, leaving you strangely moved by what you've seen.