Saturday, 10 May 2014

Review of Frank (2014)

Frank, here embodied by Michael Fassbender in a Frank Sidebottom head-mask, is one of those magnetic types, all too common in the cinema, who people tend to gravitate towards whilst himself lacking his own centre. Just look at how willingly Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) drops everything, including his job, nest egg and secure suburban life, to join Frank and his band as a keyboardist in recording an album. 

In fact, before we delve into Frank’s persona (which I fear many people will take this film to be about, and which the film is being marketed as) let’s look at Jon for a moment. We first meet him as he is unsuccessfully trying to piece together lyrics through observing the world around him. “Woman with a pram”, we hear in voiceover. He has an idea for a song about suburbia; he runs upstairs, starts singing the lyrics and pounding at his keyboard. All is going swimmingly, until he finds himself playing the notes to Madness’s “It Must Be Love”. He swears, and slams his keyboard. Then he Tweets about it. These scenes are effective and side-splitting, and do a superb job of setting up the rest of Lenny Abrahamson's film, which was written by Peter Straughan and is based on Jon Ronson's memoirs of playing in Chris Seivey/Frank Sidebottom's band.

Shortly after his musical failure, Jon chances upon a man trying to drown himself in the sea. It turns out that this is the keyboardist for the band “Soronprfbs” (nobody else in the film knows how to pronounce it either). The rest of the band look on in relative apathy; Jon claims to know how to play the keyboard. He gets a gig. He’s happy.

But this is no ordinary band, and their gig consists of half of one song, before one of the instruments blows up and the theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) storms off. It is here that we also meet the titular Frank. He is at once an energetic, vague man who gives off a very good impression of genius. Jon leaves the gig a little forlorn, and seems poised to go back to his existence as an office drone; yet, he gets a phone-call from the band the next day offering for him to go to a retreat and record the album with them. And there he finds himself. The rest of the film consists of the various attempts by the band to get the album made, and perform it live, along with the experiences of Jon and the rest of the band, including the increasingly thorny Clara, and the depressed, albeit normal-seeming band manager Don (Scoot McNairy, whose excellent turn in this I fear will be overlooked).

Little details accumulate, such as the film’s frequently hilarious use of Jon’s Twitter and Youtube feed. Observe early on how Jon checks whether the keyboardist is definitely going to be out for the count. He is fundamentally a good person, but as becomes clear, a ruthless opportunist. We do delve into the persona of Frank, mask and all, and it comes as no surprise late into the film that he has mental health issues. There is also a fair amount of suicide too, although regarding who and where and why I will not say.

It all adds up to a very funny film; not a masterpiece by any means, but a gleeful, abundant and unhinged work of energy that, among other things, proves that Michael Fassbender is one of the best actors working today; to suggest the lifetime’s worth of struggle that he does, and make it look so effortless, belies a certain rare genius. The dialogue is witty and snappy, with more than a few excellent one-liners, and the musical interludes are by turns charming, hilarious, and actually incredibly good; I can’t find a soundtrack released for this film, but I’d certainly buy it. The film also has a pretty and punchy look about it, with very bright colours which match the tone superbly.

Ultimately, what makes the film is its heart. It’s not an especially serious film, but it does care for it characters and that care shines through. It also understands perfectly the razor-thin line that exists in indie music between the sublime and the ridiculous. It is nearly the match of such films as This Is Spinal Tap and Almost Famous; it certainly warrants mention in the same sentence. I have no doubt that a devoted cult following will ensue, and this film deserves it.

Also, mark my words; Domhnall Gleeson will go on to do some very great things indeed. His performance in this, along with his brief turn in the recent Calvary and last years’ masterpiece About Time, show him to be a versatile and fearless actor with immense range, an expressive face and a certain rare dignity, who fully understands the characters he is portraying. Look out for him. 

No comments:

Post a Comment