'Frank' balances humor and tragedy
Anchored by Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender’s performances, “Frank” operates with an offbeat humor that belies its more serious issues. This is a band of misfits unlike any you’ve seen before.
As he lives and works in the suppressing world of number-crunching cubicles, Jon (Gleeson) is constantly trying to think up the lyrics to the song that will finally get him going. At home, he helplessly labors away at his keyboard in his paltry bedroom studio, unable to produce anything.
His fortunes change when the keyboardist of a touring band, Soronprfbs (don’t worry, no one in the band knows how to pronounce it, either), tries to drown himself. The band needs to fill the position, and Jon is beyond ecstatic at the opportunity.
Soronprfbs consists of members as eclectic and outlandish as the name, and it is these characters who provide the film with so much of its odd charm.
Don (Scoot McNairy), the band’s manager, has a mannequin fetish; Nana (Carla Azar), the band’s drummer, never says a word; Baraque (François Civil) is the guitar player who inexplicably only speaks French; and the perpetually abrasive Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who may or may not be in love with the band’s front man, plays the theremin, an instrument seemingly birthed inside a spaceship.
And who is the nucleus around whom this freakishly diverse set of people revolve? Frank (Fassbender), the eccentric, enigmatic singer/songwriter who wears a giant papier-mâché head over his own head at all times.
The band goes to an isolated cabin in the woods to work on its debut album, and the members do creative exercises, like making animal noises and chasing each other around with shovels. Jon gets wrangled into staying longer than he anticipates and becomes the viewer’s sane guide in this wonderland of artistic temperaments.
Though the noises coming from the band are brash and bombastic, the musical score is contrastingly whimsical. There’s a dry sense of humor throughout, yet that doesn’t mean things aren’t over the top. The bizarre personalities of the band members are all-the-more exaggerated as the audience watches from Jon’s perspective.
Director Leonard Abrahamson has struck comedic visual gold with Frank’s mascot-sized head. He wears a face of constant surprise, with cartoon eyes wide open and mouth slightly agape, almost as if in direct manifestation of the crazy going-ons around him. He also only drinks through a straw, so try imagining an oversized head drinking a beer out of a red straw.
Fassbender, robbed of his facial expressions, must rely solely on his voice and physical movements. He performs incredibly, elevating Frank beyond the mask. Gleeson’s Jon is sensible and well-intentioned, and he wears his earnestness on his face.
I’m sure you can gather that “Frank” is a very odd movie. It is incredibly light on its feet and funny throughout the first two acts, but then descends into more sinister territory by the end.
In the third act, the tone becomes serious, and the quirks that made us laugh must be confronted with blatant honesty. It seems that everyone in the band, at one time or another, was in a mental ward.
Why did that first keyboardist try to kill himself? Why does Frank wear that ridiculous thing over his face?
As we’ll see, there’s no catch-all answer, as there usually never is. Frank wasn’t horribly disfigured in a fire like some movie monster or bullied as a kid; there’s nothing you can point to in his past and say, “Aha! Problem solved.” He’s just sick.
He is a charismatic entertainer who harbors something dark inside, yet it’s readily apparent on the surface that all’s not well. With the recent death of Robin Williams, “Frank” rings discomfortingly true.
If you’re willing to join up with Frank and the band, you’ll have a good time, but don’t be surprised if you come away with something that lingers with you.
“Frank” is currently playing at The Loft Cinema.
—Follow Alex Guyton @GuyTonAlexAnder