Jon Burroughs (Dohnall Gleeson) is an aspiring songwriter, but he hasn’t found his artistic voice yet and he’s never played in a band. Luckily for him, he stumbles upon the keyboard player of Soronprfbs trying to drown himself, leaving an opening in the band. Jon offers his keyboardic skills and he is sucked into the whirlwind. The movie is spent recording the album, gigging at SxSW, and trying to figure out why the frontman Frank (Michael Fassbender) wears a papier-mache head. Jon decides he’ll learn to write his own songs, inspired by Frank, who can find inspiration in a bendy straw, meanwhile leaching off Frank’s potential for fame.
Frank (2014) caught me completely off guard. Based on the movie trailer, I had expected a simple quirky comedy. Kudos to the trailer editors for making an ad that was enticing but did not give away the whole movie, which is for sure what I thought they were doing. But, no. While Frank is indeed quirky and funny, it also touches on deep issues like mental illness. More than that, the film has the theme that John Green has popularized over the last few years: mis-imagining other people. We enter Soronprfbs through the eyes of Jon, whose vision is tainted by his perception of the purpose and function of bands (the same as the viewer’s understanding of how bands work) as well as his quest for inspiration and fame. These things cause him to mis-imagine not only Frank and their violent theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) but also the purpose of the band, his own role in it, the bandmates relationship to Frank, and Frank’s place in the universe. Because we’re seeing it through Jon’s eyes, we don’t understand the dynamics until the end of the movie, and then suddenly all the actions of the characters previous make perfect sense. It’s a film you’ll want to watch twice, not only because it’ll be enjoyable multiple times, but because it’s like one of those mysteries where you’ll notice a lot more the second viewing now that you know the secrets. I had high expectations for this film, and it exceeded even those.
Frank was inspired by Frank Sidebottom’s band, and written by Sidebottom’s keyboard player Jon Ronson (Men Who Stare at Goats book) and Peter Straughan (Men Who Stare at Goats script). Lenny Abrahamson directed, and directed it beautifully. You have to take care with the shots in these quirky comedies. You’re not going to giggle wildly at a glum scene about scattering ashes unless it’s shot just so. It stars Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy, who I’ve never heard of, but he was brilliant in this film. If you’re interested in more, read the e-book Jon Ronson wrote about Frank Sidebottom or go make a Frank head that looks like you.