SXSW 2014: Frank
Review by Daniel Rester
Twenty minutes into watching Frank, I already felt that the film will eventually gain a cult following. It has just the right kind of offbeat workings to make it fit in with cult films, including wacky characters and dark humor that is not for all tastes. This one also has an odd mask going for it.
The film opens with Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young Brit and wannabe musician who struggles at coming up with lyrics and tunes. Then he meets an indie band that is missing a keyboardist, so he joins them in an attempt to unlock his musical creativity and gain some popularity. The group, however, is led by a strange man named Frank (Michael Fassbender).
Frank always sports a large mask, has come from a mental hospital, and is a perfectionist when it comes to his music. The band also includes Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aggressive member who looks after Frank, and Don (Scoot McNairy), another man who has come from a mental hospital. Jon soon finds himself with these members and others as they set out to record an album in a rural area in Ireland.
The ingredients of Frank include a running joke about the word “chinchilla,” a Viking boat-like funeral, and a crazy sex scene that takes place in a hot tub. Mostly, though, the film surrounds itself with a love of the strange creativity that goes into making some indie music; a few jam sessions depicted in the movie have a real flow and spirit to them. Frank also incorporates an oddball use of inner-head narration, blogs, and Twitter, with the main character constantly reflecting on his time with the band. Some of all of these ingredients work well, others don’t.
Writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan and director Lenny Abrahamson clearly had fun putting a unique stamp on this dark comedy. They do incorporate some nice touches on the idea of “torment used for musical inspiration,” and a few scenes – like the opening one – are laugh-out-loud funny. But the filmmakers don’t really take the movie far past its gimmick with Frank; the story is thin and we never really learn much about the band members.
The cast is entertaining to watch, though. Gleeson is appealing as a leading man, and Fassbender pulls off giving Frank melancholy and believability. Gyllenhaal is pretty good as well, even though her talent is wasted occasionally. McNairy arguably comes off best as Don, an intriguing supporting character that has a certain magnetism to him.
Some of the editing and music are also welcome. A lot of the flow of the film has spontaneity to it, while the music is consistently different. One particular song near the end of the picture stands out as well.
Frank is an offbeat film that remains interesting, but it is also a film that is hard to fully engage with due to its sheer oddness. Some will love it because of this, others will turn their heads. I found myself in the middle. I do give the filmmakers credit, however, for making a dark comedy unlike most to roll around in the past couple of years.
Score: 2 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B-)
Runtime: 1 hour and 35 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: N/A.