Black comedy ‘Frank’ portrays struggling, papier-mâché-clad avant-garde musician

Michael Fassbender in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

Michael Fassbender in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

Lenny Abrahamson’s new comedy, “Frank,” is a film about testing the limits of creativity, the push for stardom and the struggles of those who don’t want to be a part of the norm. We follow Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), an aspiring musician who tries to come up with ditties on his walk home from work in his British town. His problem seems to come from his inability to tap into the creativity he knows is within him, but this all begins to change when he stumbles upon a group of people trying to stop a man from drowning himself in the ocean.

The group is an avant-garde band, unpronounceably called The Soronprfbs. The drowning man is their keyboard player who, after being taken to the hospital, must be replaced. Jon jumps to the occasion and after Don, the manager (Scoot McNairy), asks if he can play C, F and G chords, he lands a gig with them later that night.

When Jon arrives at the show, he walks in on the band already practicing with front man Frank (Michael Fassbender) plugging into a microphone that appears to be wired into the giant papier-mâché head, which Don soon tells us he never takes off. The concert ends quickly after band member Clara’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) Theremin malfunctions and she storms off the stage.

Jon is forced to returned to his normal 9-to-5 until he receives a call from Don requesting Jon to join the band in Ireland, where “something big” is going on. Jon quickly tells work that he will be back on Monday and heads off to what he believes is another show with The Soronprfbs. Upon arriving at a cabin, Jon becomes confused and asks just how long they plan on staying there, to which Don answers, “Just as long as it takes to record the album, Jon.”

The group then spends the next year preparing to record. They write new songs, create sounds by hopping around outside and making their own instruments and attempt to reach the very corners of their creative minds.

We soon see that “Frank” is an ultra-inspirational figure, who after finding something fascinating, in turn fascinates all those around him. His disguise is not a mask for his own face; rather, it is a way that he can separate himself from the reality of everything around him.

Although Frank is inspirational, he is not perfect. He has a wish to make music to which people will listen, but this interferes with the band’s desire for complete originality.

When Jon reveals that he has booked a show at SXSW festival, the band is not keen to the idea of playing to a large crowd, but Frank seems excited. While in Texas for the festival, a variety of events unfold that prove that Frank is a broken man, struggling with everything around him.

“Frank” ended up being much more than I expected it to be. I had planned on seeing a lighthearted indie film about a weird band and their road to stardom. Instead the film gives a realistic look at how people can be torn apart by their surroundings and how the desire for fame can turn you into a big jerk. It fuses comedic situations with real, in-your-face moments when characters feel complete inadequacy towards themselves and their work.

While I agree that it can be labelled a comedy, in an old, Shakespeare, not-everyone-is-dead-at-the-end kind of way, “Frank” is in no way a “funny” movie. Michael Fassbender and Scoot McNaily give standout performances, portraying broken men who can’t be helped by the outside world.

Unfortunately, they probably won’t be recognized at any of the major award shows. It’s a nice piece of filmography wrapped in design that will not pander to the public. Then again, maybe that’s the point.

 

Reach the reporter at wruof@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @willruof