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Sundance London 2014: Frank - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

MICHAEL Fassbender may be hidden under a papier-mâché Frank Sidebottom head for Frank but his central performance is the main reason for seeing this odd, surreal comedy.

Directed by Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson (of What Richard Did fame) and based on a script by journalist Jon Ronson that is very loosely based on his own experiences of gigging with Sidebottom, Frank is a curiosity piece that’s only intermittently successful.

Part of the problem lies in the quirky humour, which may be too offbeat for some, as well as the shifts in tone that find the film dipping into pitch black comedy one moment and absurdist hilarity the next. But there’s also an air of the pretentious that hangs over proceedings too that makes it sometimes feel too arty.

Nevertheless, Fassbender and several of his supporting players keep it watchable throughout, while the latter scenes in which Frank’s persona is, quite literally, stripped bare make for a poignant conclusion that you may not have seen coming.

The film essentially follows wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who stumbles into a band known as the Soronprfbs, who offer a breed of unhinged, experimental pop-rock that is barely recognisable as music.

Jon wants to fit in but some of his ideas are at odds with the band’s own ethos. Nevertheless, he ups sticks and follows them to Ireland to help record an album, and then onto America (and SXSW) to try and broaden their appeal beyond cult favouritism.

But while Jon and the band’s enigmatic frontman Frank (Fassbender) seem to connect, he finds himself continually at odds with the consistently furious Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), while trying to make sense of it all with the self-consciously unhinged Don (Scoot McNairy).

Much of the appeal of Abrahamson’s film lies in trying to learn about Frank and, as such, Fassbender delivers an intelligent and highly compelling performance that rises above the handicap of his mask. His scenes with Gleeson are among the film’s best, while his ability to convey some wide-ranging emotions without showing his face is something of a masterclass that is sure to only enhance his reputation.

Gleeson is great, too, as the everyman at the centre of the journey (the eyes and mind of the audience, as it were), while McNairy also provides an intriguing presence. Gyllenhaal, though, is a bit of a problem, and her performance is symptomatic of a lot of the film’s shortcomings – her wildly emotional Clara sometimes feeling too stagey or actorly (and distracting as a result).

Abrahamson’s film is at its brightest early on, when the early magic of Frank’s mystery does deliver some genuine comedic highlights, while latterly it engages by virtue of its insights into the tragedy underpinning its central character’s story. But the middle section of the film somewhat drags amid the tedious ruminations surrounding the creative process, lending it that air of artistic pretension from which it has to work hard to recover.

Hence, while undoubtedly a consistently intriguing curiosity piece that is buoyed by Fassbender’s central performance, Frank is ultimately a film that doesn’t quite leave as lasting an impression as you feel it should.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 95mins
UK Release Date: May 9, 2014