Very loosely based on the musician and comic Chris Sievey’s alter-ego Frank Sidebottom (the script was co-written by band member Jon Ronson – yes, who wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats!), Frank, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, is an unusual and refreshing portrayal of creative madness and mad creativity.
Frank, perfectly played by Fassbender, is both likable and enigmatic. He is the lead singer of the consciously edgy American band ‘Soronprfbs’, and is revered and respected by all whom he meets. He finds musical inspiration in everything, at one point composing a song about a tuft of thread, and this childlike fascination is infectious. He is kind, optimistic, and, of course, wears a huge fibre-glass head. Even in the shower. It says something about the tone of the film that this is by far not its strangest aspect.
From the very beginning, and progressing throughout the bands’ album recording and subsequent rise in popularity, we learn that not one of the members are ‘normal’. This is brought to light by the presence of Jon (Gleeson), an ordinary, middle-class guy who happens to get swept along with the band as their new keyboardist (whilst witnessing the attempted suicide of their former member, nonetheless). Gleeson provides a sterile antidote to the otherwise erratic, mentally unstable personalities in the film. His earnest demeanor is often a catalyst, creating genuinely hilarious moments where attitudes clash.
This idea of conflict is the driving force of the film. First, we have the conflict of commercial success versus artistic integrity. Jon, with his social media literacy and conventional idea of fame, pushes to get the band ‘out there’, and doesn’t understand their stubborn obscurity. Then there are the bandmates, including a deliciously moody Gyllenhaal, who shun any attempts to soften their sound, and treat playing music as an almost sacred process.
We also have the conflict of sanity versus insanity, a separation where Frank teeters in the middle, refusing to favour one side over the other. This is shown through the blurring of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Though the band’s music is not always palatable, it buzzes beautifully with rawness and weird, stream-of-consciousness lyrics (think Velvet Underground). Though the band members are not always ‘nice’ or even coherent, they all retain some unique spark that is alluring when placed next to Jon’s stiff and conventional politeness.
This is a film about identity lost and found, the eccentric nature of musicians, portrayed with just the right amount of heart and offbeat humour. It will give you the urge to drive away in a tour van, armed with musical instruments and an open mind.