Review by Jane Freebury
It’s such a short, no-nonsense name for a complete eccentric and it belies the weirdness and whimsy of his story, but what other shorthand is there for a film about a creative spirit who went around wearing a huge fake head? Every waking moment.
Oddly enough, Frank is loosely based on an honest-to-goodness English cabaret performer, stage name Fred Sidebottom/real name Chris Sievey, who wore a huge ellipsoid head with a cartoonish round eyes and slicked down hair while he performed. The screenplay is co-written by a close observer of this behaviour, journalist Jon Ronson who once played keyboards with Sidebottom’s outfit for several gigs.
There is never any satisfactory answer to the enigma of Frank in this off-the-wall tale, even when we meet the parents. Suffice to say that Frank, played by the remarkable Michael Fassbender, becomes a surprisingly tangible character, and although the other members of Frank’s band wear no disguise, each has cultivated a persona that’s hard to cut through. Especially Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, who contributes theremin to the group’s avant-garde rock. She has little to say, more than the group’s surly female drummer (Carla Azar) and disdainful French guitarist (Francois Civil) perhaps, but for unknown reasons Clara carries a lot of clout.
Our point of entry to this tribe of eccentrics is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who lives in an English coastal town and plugs away at a boring desk job while dreaming of being recognised one day for his compositions. He can play keyboards, well at least the three notes necessary to get him on board the band SORONPRFBS, so they take him with them to Ireland to make an album where he remains the outsider, the diarist who records their moves and builds them a following on his twitter account. Jon is the only one with any idea about how to get the music out there.
Why Frank never takes his papier-mache head off, neither to eat, drink, sleep, shower or anything, remains a mystery, and yet it is a surprise to find that eventually Fassbender’s voice and his body language seem to lend the blank wide-eyed face character and expression.
As the band work for months on end deep in the Irish woods, honing their creativity to release an album in time for the South by South West music festival in Texas, things become more and more extreme. Jon wants to understand what it is that Frank has and hangs in there to find out, but this story is set on the margins of celebrity, like the recent Coen brothers Inside Llewyn David, and eventual success is not what it is about.
Frank is one of the strangest experiences around, clever, crisply made and full of wonderful characters. The fake head should not put you off.
In a capsule: Michael Fassbender as you couldn’t imagine him, leads an eccentric rock group trying hard to find its inner creativity in this weird and endearing comedy-drama.