Director: Lenny Abrahamson
A little back story; Frank is loosely based on the career of Chris Sievey, whose band The Freshies and character Frank Sidebottom were both followed in cult fashion in Northern England in the 70s & 80s. Leave it to British humor to make a man in a papier-mache head popular; those Brits are quite silly. Anyway, the film was partly written by Jon Ronson, who knew Sievey and wrote a memoir about his own days in the music scene. The movie should be seen as inspired by Frank Sidebottom, among others, but not biographically about him. If you’ve seen any clips of the old TV show, you know that Frank is an odd duck and that any film even loosely based on him will definitely be weird too. And so in that manner, Frank doesn’t disappoint. You can tell from the trailer that’s it’s gonna be a strange one, a film whose humor will only reach a handful of people, whose heart will only come across to those who waited out the absurd and were there for the reality.
The story is less about Frank than it is about Jon, a young musician who sucks at songwriting. He has no originality, no inspiration, and no drive to create. He’s not even in a band until, randomly, a man named Don asks him to fill in on keyboard for a performance that night by a band called Soronprfbs. Gesundheit. So Jon joins the group and meets Frank. To explain, to explain. Imagine Ferris Bueller & Peter Pan, rolled into one, and wearing a giant head that they never take off, even to eat, sleep, or shower. That’s Frank, the lead singer, the genius behind the noise that is Soronprfbs. Unwittingly, Jon goes into retreat with the band, secluded in a remote cabin and working on their new album. It takes months, literally, before they even start recording, since Frank demands perfection and completely original sound. Jon, meanwhile, secretly blogs about the process, earns fans, and starts the band on a road to discovery, a journey that Frank might not be ready for.
I think I’ve run out of adjectives; I’ve already said odd, weird, strange, absurd. But those terms do describe the film well, as it’s not your typical movie. Not that the plot is so out there, but the characters themselves and their methods of madness are out of this world. The music itself makes no sense, even while it’s enjoyable to listen to. Frank is a mess, both emotionally and hygieneically I bet. And the band mates are islands in the storm of creativity. It’s Jon who gives us some ground to stand on, as he often seems the only sane one of the group. Gleeson plays him very well, coming across as naive but genuine. Fassbender as Frank is something else, a force of nature that you don’t even really get to see. This isn’t a film for everyone, I hope that’s clear, and I imagine most walking away shaking their heads. But for a few, the offbeat humor of the situation and the knowledge that this is at least partially true will get them through to the end, where real emotion escapes the costume and a high quality project emerges.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆