Sunday, 1 June 2014

Frank Review

Just by seeing a picture of Frank, you can see that it has all the makings of a cult classic. I mean look at that head, it's destined to be metaphorically big as well as physically big. However, it's not as good as one would think. It’s a little too quirky for its own good. The potential is there for it to be one of the most imaginative, thoughtful and amusing pieces of film for a long time, but there's some fairly big hindrances that stop it from being great.
In a small quiet English seaside town Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) tries to pursue his passion for writing songs in between working at his humdrum day job. Even given his undoubted enthusiasm for trying to be creative Jon struggles to actually write anything even vaguely resembling a half decent couple of lyrics. On Twitter he likes to tweet his songwriting status or more the lack of it along with updates on what he is eating for lunch. But when a band comes to town and their keyboard player goes off the rails he sees opportunity knocking to join the band for an actual gig. Shortly after he finds himself travelling with the band to Ireland to record an album which ends up taking him on a pretty epic journey.

Jon's new band members are a weird, odd bunch of characters which include the slightly crazed and volatile Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Don (Scoot McNairy) an ex-keyboard player of the band who now operates as a kind of manager, and then there's Frank the band's enigmatic front man played by Fassbender and who insists on wearing an over-sized fake head at all times.

Frank is confused about what it wants to be. Does it want to be a comedy? Or does it want to be a quirky
drama that explores dark themes? It tries to do both, and both of them are watered down. Honestly, it's not as funny as it could be, which is baffling because it has Michael Fassbender with a F
rank Sidebottom head on for the entire film. I'd say that 66% of the movie it wants to be a comedy and sometimes it hits comedy gold, but the other 33% of the time it wants to be a drama about mental illness. There's massive tonal problems. The final act feels like it doesn't belong to the same film as the first two acts. It's like eating a ham and jam sandwich, they work on their own but together the taste is less than satisfactory – and this is the majority of Frank. Also, for a film about music, the music isn't great. There's one song that hits you, but apart from that the rest are massively forgettable.

It's frustrating because there's some excellent stuff in there. There's some great themes of creativity, or lack of, which is really interesting. Specifically, it gets us wondering about the tangled connections between creativity and madness, and how to recognise genuine mental illness in artists – especially when eccentricity is encouraged and cultivated in circles that equate weirdness with artistic brilliance. It never seems to occur to Jon that Frank isn’t interested in being heard by a wider audience, he just enjoys the creative process.

There's a lot to like and there's a lot to dislike. The cast are wonderful. Fassbender proves he c
an be great even without facial expressions, but to me Domhnall Gleeson proves that he's turning into leading man material. He plays Jon with such exuberance and enthusiasm as well as innocence and anger, it really is a wonderful performance. As a satire on the music industry and the difference between mainstream and indie music I think it works.

But as I said, there's too many tonal and rhythmic issues to make this compulsory viewing. It could definitely grow on multiple viewings but first impressions fail to meet such high expectations. It's certainly going to be a Marmite film, but I think it's a film you should see. You have to make your mind up on it.