'Frank': A Strangely Normal Film
Frank may star Michael Fassbender, but fans looking to spend two hours ogling Fassbender on the big screen shouldn’t get too excited.
Frank tells the story of Jon (Domhall Gleeson), a young keyboard player and aspiring songwriter, who winds up being incorporated into an off-center band known as the Soronprfbs. Thrust into the Soronprfbs and on an isolated retreat to write and record an album, Jon stands out as a misfit among misfits – a polite, sweet, conventional fish out of water. All the other band members are strange, at best, and insane, at worst, while Jon is presented as an innocent wannabe who lives with his parents and lies about his accomplishments on various social media platforms. In short, Jon is the everyman, an audience representative.
The Soronprfbs aren’t exactly welcoming to Jon. The band’s loveable manager, Don (Scoot McNairy) is the only one who really takes the time to relate to Jon, but his affinity for having sex with mannequins makes him more off-center than Jon would like. Other members of the band include Baraque (François Civil), a hunky French guitar player who barely speaks to Jon and insults him constantly in a language Jon can’t understand, and Nana (Carla Azar), the standoffish drummer. Perhaps most scary of all is Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who enjoys belittling Jon and makes no effort to hide her extreme dislike for him and his music. Finally, there’s Frank. Frank (Fassbender) is the band’s main creative force and lead singer, who, while a musical genius, is also certainly suffering from mental illness.
For the majority of the film, Fassbender’s face is completely covered by his helmet-like paper-maché head. His huge head and painted on eyes are, admittedly, somewhat terrifying – in another universe, Frank is a horror film – but Fassbender and screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan manage to infuse a blank expression with a genuine personality. Early on, Frank and Jon have a late night heart-to-heart prompting Frank to describe his facial expressions and emotions to Jon vocally throughout the film. This happens sporadically – often enough to be endearing, but infrequent enough not to be cutesy.
The performers in Frank are all more than capable, but Gyllenhaal is particularly brilliant as the sharp-tongued Clara. Gyllenhaal manages to be both intimidating and commanding without overpowering her fellow performers, and her insults are deliciously cruel. McNairy, as the tortured band manager, is also a standout.
Frank is a strangely forgettable film – strangely because it’s a fun, smart, humorous, touching and thoroughly entertaining movie. It’s not that Frank is a throwaway, popcorn movie; it has substance, but it doesn’t necessarily bring anything particularly new or revealing to the world. Part of the problem might be that part of Fassbender’s fame comes, not from his talent as an actor (which is incredible), but for his good looks and his history of being naked onscreen (see the first minute of Shame). Watching the film, I began by actively tried to imagine that I had no idea what Frank looked like underneath the mask, though eventually I gave up. To the film’s credit, there came a point in the film where I almost didn’t care what was underneath the mask, but I can’t help but wonder whether or not the filmmakers intended for the viewer to go in blind, and whether that would have made a difference.