Lenny Abrahamson, 95 Minutes, UK
He was charming in Inglourious Basterds, steely in the X-Men films and monstrous in 12 Years a Slave. Now, Michael Fassbender cements his reputation as one of the most talented actors working today, creating a funny, enigmatic character while hidden under a giant papier mâché head. Frank is the character, and Frank is the film, a bizarre new rock ‘n’ roll comedy from director Lenny Abrahamson. Hitting on themes of fame, family, inspiration and mental illness, it’s a weird and wonderful trek across the fields of creative expression, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
So just who is this fellow Frank anyway? As it turns out, he’s inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the comic alter-ego of musician Chris Sievey. A cheery musician from the tiny village of Timperley, Sidebottom’s off-key crooning and elaborate head-gear made him minor cult figure in the north-west corner of England; an endearing fellow who dreamed of finding fame without the means or talent to make it happen.
In comparison, Fassbender’s Frank has a great deal more gravitas, although that’s partially because we see him through the eyes of a star-struck fan. Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a young amateur keyboardist who, through a strange turn of luck, gets the chance to play in Frank’s band. It’s a life-changing experience for the wannabe musician, who desires nothing more that to be a success. To Jon, the boundlessly creative Frank isn’t just an inspiration. He’s a prophet.
A painfully unremarkable person in a baffling situation, Gleeson’s grounded performance provides an anchor to which the audience can cling. His fellow Frank disciples include the theremin playing Clara (a delightfully bitchy Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Don, the band’s hapless manager (a droopy Scoot McNairy). But the standout performance undoubtedly comes from Fassbender. While Frank’s giant face may be frozen, he never for a second seems inexpressive.
And that’s the message at the heart of film. Hidden behind an enormous fake head, Frank is free to be whoever he wants. The film’s sense of humour is absurd, unpredictable and often quite twisted, but always with an oddball sense of creativity and joy. Abrahamson takes the piss out of the soulless mainstream music industry even as he turns his self-aggrandising ‘artists’ into caricatures. And at the same time, he celebrates them both.
Written by Tom Clift, June 2014