FRANK (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Look Jon you’re just going to have to go with this.”
- Don (Scoot McNairy) to main character Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) 
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Never had truer words pierced my ears when trying to decipher a movie’s nature. Jon played by Domhnall Gleeson, just joined a band fronted by the inanimate headed Frank called “Soronprfbs”. Upon initial meeting he speaks with the band’s director Don, who relates to Jon that what Frank, the band members, and Don restlessly do is all a little wacky, but that “Jon is just going to have to go with this” if he wants to remain as the band’s new milquetoast keyboarder. I have been anticipating seeing this movie for quite a while - like our main character Jon has been looking forward desperately to becoming a credibly accepted musician, so both of us decided good, bad or unassailably bizarre, we were going to go with Frank wherever he leads us with those abysm hollow eyes and Paper Mache’-molded sincere smile.

KEYWORDS
Sly, unpretentiously cool, manic, kooky, awesomely offbeat, irreverent, scatterbrained

THE GOOD
The leads: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson
Funny writing and dialog
Frank’s Mask
Excellent criticism on millennial sub-pop culture
Enjoyable pacing and rhythm

THE BAD
Wobbly third act
Loses momentum towards the end
Cliché ridden climax

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
From Irish Director Lenny Abrahamson is an offbeat comedy about a young wannabe musician (Domhnall Gleeson – True Grit & Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows 1 & 2) who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant-garde pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender – 12 years a slave, X-Men First Class & Shame) a musical genius who hides himself inside a large fake plastered head, and his terrifying bandmate Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Dark Knight & Crazy Heart)

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Fassbender plays a fictional character based off a real English musician and comedian Chris Sievey, who fronted a band called ‘The Freshies’. Sievey had a real life alter-ego called Frank Sidebottom (Same plaster head in the movie) that started in the late 1970’s until his death in 2010. Co-written by an ex-band mate Jon Ronson, this is a fantastically weird fictional testimony in which Sievey’s own memoirs are the foundation of the plot itself. With this personal attribution into the film by its aforementioned collaborators, Frank is filmed with a disorienting sense of heart and respect. Frank is simultaneously objectified but is bizarrely connected to everything around him that strongly influences the characters and the creative aspect the film itself is made. Fassbender is really enjoyable as Frank: He dons another accent this time as a grifting space cadet Midwesterner in the best Americana way. And he does it convincingly.

The film flies in the first half with a rushed refreshing pace that is enjoyably quirky but also unforgiving in its critiques on pop culture pretention. FRANKS MASK IS THE MOVIE!! You can’t help but buy into it sight unseen, and when Gleeson’s character reacts, we react with him with delirious laughter. Gleeson was very noteworthy. This was the first time I have watched him from and center; with the new Star Wars episode 7, this gave me a chance to gain an impression of him before he becomes part of a movie making machine, which could put his budding career into submission. I was delighted with his performance and this character had a true story arc as we view this journey through his point of view. The movie is at its best when all the characters of the band are trapped in a cabin to do an “album” – Told through Jon’s personal diary and consigned to his whorish twitter handle we watch the distaste of his band member’s towards him develop, as he is trying to “viralize” them with strip mall commercialism giddy earnest . Leading the charge is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara as Frank’s protector, fellow bandmate, enabler and general movie sociopath. I like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s contribution and tension she delivers against Jon. Some of the funnier scenes involve her interaction with Gleeson. He perpetually finds himself in her eviscerated cross hairs like a poor little sandy blonde haired bunny would be prey to a carnivorous chainsaw wielding mountain bear!

At times I was smiling gleefully as this movie delivered a sub-culture Alt Rock style thrill to me as did Scott Pilgrim delivered a sub-culture alt punk- pop video game style. As with Scotty P. the elements of the characters and their personalities all work and brim to a hard boil when they all are forced to interact within Frank’s world. Once the movie moves into the third act, and starts to normalize itself, Frank loses all the goofy, weird goodwill and humor it developed, suffering in its own creative tonal shift. The movie trades sincere irreverent humor for more of a downtrodden humanistic effect once it starts in wanting to swim in the vortex pool of adoration provided by the indie music scene of South by Southwest.  Once this happens the movie takes a slight insufferable dive, and falls into cliché’s of typical rock band rise and fall drama. This is when movie loses its plastered head. I wished the movie were to stay true to playing by its own rules and having the outsiders adjust to Frank and not vice-versa. Further, I wish this movie stayed confident with its premise. Personally, I didn’t want to find out who the true Frank is and what molded him, I wanted to remain lost in that mask, cause after all: Frank has a certain vibrant abstract genius, but it’s the mask that iconically amplifies it. I understand, and in a differential way see why the movie shifts to where it ends, however, I wanted to stay exposed to the wonderfully created alternative timeline that Frank first introduced me to in the beginning.

KEY SCENE
In this scene, Jon narrates his experience with Frank and the rest of the band as they try to begin Frank’s visionary process of creating their album. The scene is filmed in a way that would make Wes Anderson proud but it gives not only a direct explanation of what the narrator is deciphering in Franks world; Movie also allows us to ascertain what exactly we are dealing with here, however, to the scenes brilliance, and to a greater extent the movie overall, it never strays too far out to the point where it becomes incomprehensible.

CONCLUSION
For the first two thirds of this movie I enjoyed myself immensely and was ready to slap a hardcore “Best Movie Ever status” as it maintained a rhythm and complexity that was refreshingly funny. I have been exposed to high-concept, avant garde & cult movies before, such as Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 fantastic ‘Rubber’ (about a homicidal spare tire) and 70’s cult horror underground classic ‘Basketcase’! Now these movies are different in genre and tone, but are similar to Frank in absurdist premise and ambitions. Like the two referential movies I listed, Frank delivers with a wonder first two thirds, but gets smacked upside its big ol’ Art Decoupage’d head with a somber last act. However, there are fiercely more good elements to this movie than horrible which ultimately makes it rewarding and definitely a movie worth seeing in the theaters or ‘ON DEMAND’ – This movie is funny as hell as long as it doesn’t try to be normal.

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3 out of 4

 


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