“I love your wall. Put your arms around me. Fiddly digits, itchy britches. I love you all.”
Lenny Abrahamsson directs this offbeat tragicomedy inspired by comedian Chris Sievey’s comedy character Frank Sidebottom. I had never heard of him, but this film isn’t actually a biopic because it only takes that concept of the character and applies it to a musician who always wears a mask around his head. It is a film that very subtly has a lot to say about the relationship between artistic creativity and mental illness among many other things. Frank is a film that I respect more than I actually enjoy considering I found the pacing a bit tedious at times and wasn’t engaged with the characters. I didn’t actually enjoy the music either, but of course it isn’t meant to be entertaining, but it would probably have a little fan base considering their creative approach towards music. I also found it way more clever than funny. I didn’t find myself laughing as much as I had hoped for. Frank is actually a short film running under 90 minutes and for about the first hour I wasn’t really into it, but the last 30 minutes did draw me in and by the end I even enjoyed Frank’s last song. From the moment the band travels to the SXSW concert I finally began to engage with some of the characters. The film is offbeat and weird at times sort of like its central characters and it reminds us that there is a very thin line between artistic creativeness and madness. Most of the film takes place in a cabin in Ireland where the band is recording their next album over the course of an year. You get the sense that what they are doing isn’t just searching for inspiration. They actually are like of a support group in a way considering they are all mentally unstable (with the exception of Gleeson’s character who plays like the fish out of the water here). Frank is a very odd film, but creative nonetheless with some touching moments near the end.
It’s impossible not to talk about Michael Fassbender when reviewing this film. I truly believe he is one of the best actors living today, but having him wear a gigantic papier-mâché head covering his entire face could seriously restrain his performance. It didn’t because it is Fassbender who we are talking about and he can pull anything off. So without his facial expressions he was forced to use his voice and body language which he did perfectly. His posture and the way he uses his hands convey a lot of meaning. Even his voice was restrained by this gigantic head so he really did basically do it all with his body language. If there was anything that got me trough this film during the first hour it was his performance. The lead character of the film however is Jon Burroughs (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who runs into the eccentric band members at the right time and is offered a chance to play the keyboards for them. Jon has always wanted to write songs, but he doesn’t quite fit into this group of misfits. He is more interested in becoming famous than actually being creative and in a way begins to influence Frank and trying to make him sell out. The rest of the band members are played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (who is perhaps the oddest character of them all), Francois Civil, and Carla Azar. Scoot McNairy is sort of the manager of the band. Jon discovers early in the film that these are all troubled people and so he begins to develop a theory that artistic creativity comes from living traumatic experiences. So considering he has never been able to write a decent song, he believes it is necessary to go through some sort of trauma with the rest of the members in order to find his creative genius. With Frank however that concept is turned upside down and it reminds us that art isn’t a product of traumatic events. It is a way of healing and coping with them through music. The film can be absurd and strange at times but it does convey the message in a very subtle way which makes the ending all that much better.