Thursday, 10 July 2014

NZIFF Movie Review: Frank

NZIFF Movie Review: Frank

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy
Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Frank is one of the weirdest yet sanest pieces of cinema around with a great insight into what it means to be a musician and how the creative gene pool work.
Frank - Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, Domnhall Gleeson

Gleeson plays Jon, a wannabe singer songwriter, who spends a lot of his time forcing creativity to come when there really is none. Stuck in a seaside town, in a dead-end job and with aspirations beyond his talent, his chance comes after a bizarre moment when he witnesses a keyboard player of a group trying to drown himself on a beach.

Striking up a conversation with the band's manager, Don (McNairy), Jon's asked to step in if he "can play C,F or G". Thrust onto the stage that night with stardom in his eyes, he discovers the lead singer of the band is Frank, a man whose sole tic is to wear a big giant papier mache head.

Thinking it's a stage thing only, Jon soon discovers that Frank lives inside the head and is a cypher for the rest of the band, pushing their creativity and frustrations - given the chance to record an album with the group, Jon soon finds himself ensconced in the lifestyle but frustrated none of his music is taken onboard. After 12 months writing, the band finally write their album and set out on a tour....which is when things start to not go according to plan.

Frank is based on the character Frank Sidebottom and is a piece that's inspired by an article written by Jon Ronson, who co-created the movie.

Part tribute to the character and also part documentary (if you read the article), there's something wilfully obscure and offbeat about Frank as it dances to the sound of its own beat.
Michael Fassbender is Frank 

From the hostility of Clara (Gyllenhaal) to the seeming mania of Frank himself (Fassbender in a tour de force performance), there's a whole range of emotions at play here. Initially, the seaside is evocative of the mundanity of suburbia with Jon longing for escape - but he soon swaps one mundane existence for another (albeit an offbeat one) as he spends a year recording with Frank.

With a wildly eclectic soundtrack and a Jim Morrison style front man, there is poignancy with punchlines aplenty in Frank - and it's all a little bit out there, thanks to the bizarre premise. But there's also tragedy as the film takes a darker tone towards the end (which may cause some to feel shortchanged) as the bleakness creeps in

It's destined for cult status too - with scenes like Frank describing his mood underneath the mask forming part of the early laughs ("Welcoming smile" is likely to become a catchphrase) but perhaps the simplest statement comes from Don early on when he tells Jon, "You're just going to have to go with this".

It's a wise mantra for anyone going into the early parts of Frank where little is revealed about the whys or who Frank actually is - it's a clever touch by Abrahmson and Fassbender particularly that you care more about the character with the mask on. Gleeson's naive lost soul also makes a good impression as he grows from talentless to inspired, to full on manager of his destiny - but never before has one man's journey seemed so destined for despair.

Humour, tragedy and pathos are littered throughout this eccentric piece which explores creativity- Frank truly surprises in among the dry, deadpan humour- there's an inherent vein of sadness running throughout which imbues everything with a rock'n'roll richness that's hard to pigeonhole in this enigmatic treat.

The New Zealand International Film Festival kicks off in Auckland on July 17th with the world premiere of The Dark Horse - full details of these films and others can be found at

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