Inspired by Chris Sievey’s comic novelty character Frank Sidebottom, Frank is a unique and hugely enjoyable tale that explores the pitfalls of egotism and blind ambition in a business that, as proven by the film’s band, should be primarily focused on freedom and expression through music. The main protagonist, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a struggling songwriter, stuck in a monotonous job, desperately trying to ‘reach his furthest corners’ and produce good, commercially recognisable music, to no avail. The opening sequence, in fact, shows his painstakingly awful efforts at trying to make music out of literally anything he sees, as well as displaying his awkward self-promotional skills through the running motif of tweets and Tumblr posts. (A particularly laughable tweet being: ‘Ham and Cheese Panini #livingthedream’) However, following a chance incident, Jon gets caught up in the quirky whirlwind of musical camaraderie that is the film’s band, Soronprfbs (actual name) and their enigmatic Papier Maché- headed lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender).
The way in which the band play and record their music is certainly unconventional, and this is largely due to Frank’s intricately precise, yet childlike way of viewing the world and his belief that such an attentive fascination of life can inspire any sound to become music. For instance, there is a scene, in which Jon is frustrated at his incapability to find a good theme for a song, where Frank spontaneously writes a song about an upturned tuft of carpet he spots in the room. It is this impulsive, energetic way of making music that inspires Jon to film the bands exploits – all of which are quite schizophrenic and eccentric in their nature – during their sporadic year-long recording process, garnering much online attention. This sudden opportunity at success then sparks a change in Jon, which transforms him from being a character who at the beginning of the film is quite sympathetic and relatable, to the self-inflicted villain of the piece, tarnishing the band’s natural sound and process in an effort to get big. During this downward spiral, we also see more to Frank – despite his enthusiasm to share music with people, his anxious insecurities ultimately make it clear that his enjoyment of making music is not on the same needy level as Jon’s – it is much more honest and therapeutic.
Given that this is a film about a man who wears a big cartoon head, a slight sense of awkward anticipation is to be expected – but for the most part, it’s amusing. Moments of static silence are undercut by a touch of oddball humour. The main settings of a rural Irish forest and the busy dim-lit streets of America offer a beautiful antithesis, in their symbolism of what is natural and what is not, in regards to both the music and the attitudes of the characters. The music, despite being wildly unorthodox, is oddly catchy. (Frank’s ‘Most Likeable Song Ever’ is particularly infectious, as is the peculiarly heart-felt ‘I Love You All’) Ultimately, the cast is wonderful with Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays volatile band member, Clara) both on fierce form in their supporting roles. However, it is Fassbender, who in his flawless and animated portrayal of Frank, manages to encapsulate the excitable, liberating mood of the film, while also giving it heart.
Frank is on DVD and Blu-Ray now
This article was written for The Indiependent. It can be found in it’s original form here