It was about a year or two ago that I saw Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson’s indie film “Garage” and I can’t say I thought much of it. I may have missed the point or it might not have been aimed at someone like me but I just didn’t like it. Which bring me to Lenny’s latest film “Frank” starring Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave), Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight), Scoot McNairy (Argo) and Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter Films). Frank is somewhat of a coming of age film crossed with a black comedy crossed with a film about the creative process, sounds a little strange right?? that’s exactly what I thought. Jon (Gleeson), is a young wanna-be musician working a dead-end job in a small town then he lucks into playing Keyboard in an eccentric, psychedelic electro/pop band fronted by the mysterious and quirky Frank (Fassbender). While in the countryside recording an album Jon and the band try to find the right sound from deep within, all the while dealing with each other’s clashing personalities.
I didn’t know that Lenny Abrahamson was the man behind Garage until midway through watching Frank and I’m still not completely sure how to feel about it all. One thing I can take away from the film and relate to is Frank’s words “I always dreamed one day I’d have a band member who shared my vision of creating extremely likeable music”.
Seldom does a film this imaginative with such an original concept come along. Like it or hate it Frank is a unbelievably unique film. I can draw the odd comparison between films like “Lars And The Real Girl” and “Me, You And Everyone We Know” in the sense that they are structured in a very similar way in the storytelling process but it takes somewhat of a deeper understanding of the human condition to get the full appreciation of this type of film. The cast is really good in this and it comes as no surprise that Fassbender excels again and showcases the wide variety of emotions he can convey in such a different role like this. This is nothing like a commercial “12 Years A Slave” but he approaches it with the same amount of dedication and professionalism. Frank is such an interesting and odd character. He’s searching for his true identity and is literally trying to rebuild himself from the bottom up through his music. He wears a giant head to cover his face, explaining in one scene that it’s not any different or stranger than the human face (haha).
Maggie has been on the scene for many years now and has become a very solid actress in these secondary roles. I have been a big fan of Scoot McNairy since his lead role in the low-budget independent film “In Search Of A Midnight Kiss” all the way up to his recent work in “Argo” and “Non-stop”. Scoot is quickly becoming one of the best in the business, his character of Don isn’t explored much here but he does a very nice job all the same. The surprise of the lot though is Gleeson, who I found to be really likeable and innocent in a way. His character learns something new about himself by the end of the film and that’s important in a film about a young man trying to find his place.
The film takes a lot of time making light of indie musicians and the creative process they go through when writing music. They tend to think they are doing something new and different and special with what they think holds artistic merit. Using everything and anything as an instrument isn’t all that clever and it’s where the black comedy tends to come out. I’m sure musicians that play the genre of music on display would probably be offended but let’s be honest, it’s not that far from the truth. The film has some great music in it, I hear a little bit of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds sort of tunes (given the odd style of course), along with a very quirky score and a lot of bizarre sound effects that add plenty to the atmosphere of the film. Majority of the film is told with wonderful narration from the character of Jon. He discusses how he is feeling about the band and what he hopes to achieve and considering he doesn’t really have any deep and meaningful conversations with anyone throughout the film, it gives the audience insight into what his hopes and dreams are.
The wonderful camera work and snappy editing round out a very successful technically well made film.
I couldn’t tell from the opening of the film and the costume design as to whether the film was supposed to be set in the 70’s or 80’s, that was quickly put to rest when Jon started Tweeting and Hash-tagging (haha). Speaking of which, the social media outlet part of the film was something that I didn’t care for. After all it’s a story about a very specific sounding band with obscure personalities, which couldn’t be further from the socially normal, yet we are given constant Twitter updates and ever-growing YouTube views throughout the film (a little out-of-place I think). Also keep in mind If you’re looking at the film from a realistic point of view you will probably find a lot of the reactions and decisions the characters make don’t make a lot of sense.
When Jon is gone for months on end you would think his parents would give him a call and find out why he quit his job and I dunno… ask where he has been this whole time. It’s not that difficult to write one 30 second scene like that into the film. I assume Clara (Gyllenhaal), was struggling with some form of depression or ADHD or something. She has a very narcissistic personality and is constantly lashing out at those around her and therefore she is never really someone who you care about all that much.
I don’t want to spoil anything but there is a particular scene/event that occurs just over half way through the film that I found unbelievably cartoonish and underplayed. None of the characters project anything close to an appropriate reaction given what takes place and that’s just not realistic. It was a very poor scene and it should have been scrapped or re-written.
Frank is such an odd movie to describe and or recommend, because it’s very much an acquired taste. It’s a mix of several different genres but at its core depicts a very basic story. There is an underlining sub-plot of mental illness and it’s effect on those suffering from it and those around them. It’s not a black comedy, it’s not a coming of age drama and it’s not a musical, it’s a little bit of column A,B and C. I can’t deny Lenny Abrahamson’s “Frank” is a wonderfully made film but it won’t be for everybody and I don’t even know if it’s for me but it’ something! How soon it will be before I revisit it? Who knows.
My rating for “Frank” is 6/10