Take Michael Fassbender, one of the most charismatic actors of the current moment, and wedge him inside a giant papier-mâché head with a single expression fixed on it. You still get a great performance, and a great movie.
Frank is a hard film to describe on paper, because it makes it sound trite and kind of unoriginal. I can tell you it’s the exploits of Jon (Domnhall Gleeson), a prim-and-awkward wannabe musician who joins the ‘Soronprfbs’, an avant-garde band led by Frank (Fassbender) as they record their first album, and that it’s about Jon coming out of his shell as he’s exposed to the bands eccentricities, like Frank’s philosophies on life despite always wearing the giant head, the hostility of bandmate Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the open disdain of the rest of the band (Carla Azar, François Civil) or the odd companionship he strikes up with the band’s manager Don (Scoot McNairy). You can talk about how it’s about Jon’s self-actualisation as a musician, or you can talk about the wackiness of the band but it doesn’t capture it.
Frank is a great movie. I found it hilarious, and just the right kind of oddball. It’s an enjoyable and oddly uplifting movie, despite the fact that, as a protagonist, Jon gets shat on for the first half of the movie and eventually grows into being a bit of a shit himself. It’s not a cringe-comedy; Jon is indeed awkward, and this gets a few laughs but not at the expense of the audience’s comfort.
Performances across the board are great (though Azar and Civil have less to do in the film, although even then they still give a great sense of being characters embodying the film even when they’re not on screen). Gleeson and Gyllenhaal play off each other remarkably well, and I love that the movie never really lets them move past the hostility she feels towards him (“Chinchilla!”), and McNairy provides some of the movie’s best laughs.
Underneath the giant papier-mâché head is Fassbender – not the film’s main character, despite the title, but the enigmatic centre of everything the film is about. Frank is a strange character – and not just because of the head. Fassbender’s performance is amazing (as expected) but he’s also a troubled figure under the expressionless face.
The movie is a surprisingly sensitive look at mental illness, something I wasn’t expecting at all. It does come at the expense of the relative levity of the first two acts; the third becomes more sombre as the true extent of Jon’s growth into an asshole takes its toll on the rest of the band. That’s not to say it’s mirthless though, just a gradual change of pace from the hilarity that came before.
Frank is not a hard movie to write about, but it’s hard to capture on paper. It’s a delightful film, and definitely worth seeing. It’s just that it’s something that sort of defies simple description – so go see it and you’ll see what I mean.