Review: Frank Captures Eccentric and Touching Struggle of the Artist in Internet Age

Frank Frank

Article Kenny Hedges.

Frank (directed by Lenny Abrahamson, written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughn) follows a post-internet age Billy Liar and asks, “What if he did follow his dream through, but his idol was a lunatic?” Jon, a young middling English songwriter, gets invited to play keyboard for the aforementioned Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank wears a giant fake head made of a papier-mache and refuses to take it off. Soon, Jon is invited to spend a year in Ireland with the band as they record their painstakingly overblown album, all the while secretly filming it and posting youtube clips.

Fassbender’s American accent sounds like a cross between Stephen Wright and Jeff Daniels, and though you can’t see his face under that giant head, Frank touches you. The film’s eccentricities are only enhanced by the complete lack of ambition compelling the band; by their willingness to forfeit any kind of fame for love of creation. While Jon’s youtube videos propel the band to curious success, Frank and his bandmates (particularly love interest Maggie Gyllenhaal) are soon forced to come to terms with celebrity. This makes Jon the odd man out, always striving toward some kind of mainstream popularity while having no discernible talent.

Frank was inspired by fictional rocker Frank Sidebottom (aka Chris Sievey), but only very loosely. As a film, it has more in common with documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, including connections to Austin, Texas and a personality driven by a kind of quirky warmth ultimately driven by something darker. Though as dark as what drives Fassbender’s character is, Ronson and Straugn’s script keeps the tone light and always funny.

Frank

Frank

Frank asks what it means to be famous in the social media age – a question recently answered in a poll revealing youtube and twitter stars are more well-known and aspired to than actors like Leonardo DiCaprio. But with a different touch, the film could have been just as much a point-and-laugh at the freaks outing than a genuinely identifiable experience. As the character Frank’s mask chips away, what we ultimately see is a yearn for creativity, not fame – 15 minutes or otherwise.

Ronson’s last adaptation of his journalistic work, The Men Who Stare At Goats, played a lot of the same narrative shorthands by using a Ronson-esque identification character. But in Frank, Jon is even less of an outsider and enough of his own character to blend in to the story. It helps that, like everyone in the band, Jon plays his own instrument. By the time they reach their climactic show in Austin (with a song recently performed live on The Colbert Report), the cast looks and acts like a real band – one that never entirely meshes together due to the personality conflicts that have unfolded throughout. That heartfelt performance is just one of the many earnest moments that elevate Frank beyond just a pretentious exercise.

Frank opened August 15.

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