Flix is a weekly series that reviews a movie available on Netflix. This week, I review the 2014 film “Frank.”
With the oversaturated state the music industry is in, it is far too easy for people to generate abstract preconceptions of musicians. Pop culture and the media depict musicians as these mysterious, aloof people, creative minds who struggle to be understood or consider themselves “ahead of their time.” In his 2014 comedy-drama “Frank,” director Lenny Abrahamson aspires to shed light on the artistic life with his original take on musicianship. His film both ironically satirizes the pretentiousness of musicians and sincerely explores the struggles of the creative process. In the end, his film leaves more questions than answers, but the openness of the film is just part of its charm.
How to describe “Frank”? With its eccentric characters, unusual premise, quirky wit and cacophonous noise rock, the short answer is that “Frank” is a movie that somehow maintains its own plane of originality. The film follows Jon (played by Domhnall Gleeson), an aspiring songwriter who, by some rather peculiar circumstances, becomes involved in the experimental noise rock band, The Soronprfbs, a band whose sound is as bizarre as its name. Fronting the band is the inspiring creative genius known only as Frank (played by Michael Fassbender), a prolific songwriter and musician who continually keeps his face hidden under a giant paper mache head. As the film progresses, Gleeson’s fame-seeking Jon takes the band from its isolated cabin in Ireland to the sold-out crowds of South by Southwest (SXSW), much to the band’s ironic dismay. On the way, Fassbender’s Frank goes from an undiscovered musical genius to a troubled internet sensation. The film’s contemplative depiction of the rise and fall of musical stardom is as comical as it is plaintive; at its core, the film questions the meaning of the word “artist.”
With such a clever premise, screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan masterfully use their idiosyncratic sense of humor to their favor. Their ironic, often dark, comical stylings give the movie this freshness and spontaneity that perpetually maintain the audience’s collective attention. From the creative use of Twitter handles to the humorous representation of adult insecurity, the film contains a myriad of elements that continually grab the audience’s attention. Plus, the cartoonish gag of a grown man in a giant paper mache head never gets old, and Ronson and Straughan utilize every paper-mache-head joke two writers can imagine. But fortunately, the film’s screenwriters never put the humor at the film’s heart. They realize that underneath the cartoonish humor of a grown man wearing a giant paper mache head lies a poignant story of an individual’s search for authenticity in an oversaturated pop culture.
Even while wearing a giant paper mache head, Michael Fassbender (from “Band of Brothers” and “12 Years a Slave”) gives an astonishingly sincere performance as the film’s titular character. He recognizes that it would be far too easy to play Frank as a cartoony recurring joke. But by using the paper mache head gag as a manifestation of Frank’s deep-seated insecurities and ambiguous, traumatic past, he gives Frank an emotional depth that makes his character believable and heartfelt. His emotional shifts, ranging from inspired genius to childlike rockstar, add even more depth and complexity to his nuanced character.
Simply put, “Frank” is a creative film made for creative people. Striking the fine balance between light-hearted and endearing, the movie is a refreshing palate cleanser from all those generic dramedies over-saturating film festivals these days. After watching the movie, you should look up The Soronprfbs’ performance of their song “I Love You All” on “The Colbert Report.”