The duel nature of creative genius and madness is a fascinating one. Those who think outside the box are strange and exciting, and we are naturally drawn to them, wanting to be a part of what they do. But at what point does that desire become something more destructive?
Hapless Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), lives in seaside suburbia attempting to write his next musical masterpiece, despite a complete lack of creative talent. A chance encounter ends with him playing keyboard at a gig for the unconventional and unpronounceable band The Soronprfbs, fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender), a strange individual who never takes off his giant papier-mâché head. As the band moves on to Ireland to record their album, Jon gets dragged along and finds himself becoming more and more enamoured of Frank’s music and unconventional methods, as well as the mystery of the man under the head and why is he the way he is, earning the ire of Theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in the process. When Jon’s publicizing of the band’s antics online gets them a gig at SXSW, it looks as though the band is set for fame.
I am telling you upfront that this film is weird. However if you think I’m saying that as a criticism then maybe Frank isn’t for you. There are moments that veer into being uncomfortable, but on the whole this is a film that is full of charming oddity, random off-beat moments and some really great laughs, particularly in the scenes set in a remote cabin as the band rehearse and record. A key component of the film is of course the music, and the sound of The Soronprfbs is strange without being inaccessible. In fact, there are a couple of particular tunes you might find yourself humming afterwards.
Eccentric characters can be hard to get right without being grating or stupid, but luckily the strength of this film is the performances. Domhnall Gleeson gets across a sense of the everyman, genuine in both his desire to see the band succeed and his own creative frustration which could tear the band apart. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara is a great foil to this–deadpan, aggressive, and believing that someone really needs to punch Jon in the face (I personally agree with her). Scoot McNairy also offers a softly unhinged performance as Don, the band’s pseudo-manager, and even musicians François Civil and Carla Azar have their moments. Nonetheless, this film is utterly Fassbender’s for obvious reasons. As Frank, he skilfully gives us eccentricity, friendliness, obsession and an odd innocence, not to mention the guitar playing and singing–all whilst wearing a giant false head. This is not like anything we’ve seen from him before and it is simply a delight to watch.
The film is also one of two parts. The recording scenes set in Ireland have a light quirky touch to them, and build up to the big gig in Austin, Texas. In a way the two settings show the different sides of creativity: the more organic creative process where what you create is purely for yourself, and the opportunity to put your art out there and potentially make it big. Each has its merits, but aren’t necessarily the best fit for every artist.
Another major theme addressed in the film is mental illness, a difficult subject to portray truthfully on film, and Frank deals with the issue in a way that isn’t clichéd, contrived or disrespectful. Jon is fascinated by Frank’s insanity, and the film fully shows why this kind of thinking is wrong and damaging.
One of the greatest joys whilst watching films is coming across things which simply click with you and Frank is that for me. Everything, from its strange humour and askew look at the creative process to the heart-warming ending just fell into place for a great experience. Its weirdness is very weird, but I encourage people to see it because whether you love it or hate it, I guarantee that you won’t see another film quite like it this year.