Sporting a giant fibreglass head, Michael Fassbender takes the titular role in Frank, a chaotic road-trip to the depths of music and madness. Those of a certain vintage will remember the utter oddity that was Frank Sidebottom – a unique blend of post-punk weirdness wrapped up with the cabaret sensibilities of a Butlin’s redcoat – Frank regularly appeared on TV through the 80s, butchering hits on a Casio keyboard in a stupendously repetitive but entertaining fashion. Loosely inspired by journalist Jon Ronson’s stint as a keyboard player with Frank Sidebottom’s band, Frank the film reimagines things in the present day, focusing on wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) and his accidental trip down the rabbit hole.
Jon’s opportunity to join the band – Soronprfbs (which is so avant-garde that nobody knows how to pronounce it) comes by chance when he finds the police wrestling their keyboard player from the sea. Stepping in for a gig he finds himself whisked away from British suburbia to the wilds of Wicklow to record an album. In the tight, isolated confines a log cabin, the bands’ personalities clash. Jon is the light of sanity and our gateway into the odd cast of characters that make up Soronprfbs. Frank is the ever-present mystery, and Jon’s fascination to find the man behind the mask lands him in trouble with the volatile and protective Clara (Maggie Gylenhall). Jon’s quest to eke out his home among the outcasts plays out like Almost Famous spliced together with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s an over-the-top ride, but despite the pervasive peculiarity it never feels too far-fetched. Ronson’s input as co-author coupled with Lenny Abrahamson’s directorial style keep the piece grounded. Frank always feels more about the characters Jon meets rather than the situations they get into, which in retrospect, is some achievement.
Frank may prove too strange a film to immediately appeal to mass audiences, but as with Garage and Adam and Paul, Abrahamson is able to make something universally significant from the strangest of circumstances. And likewise, beneath the giant head, Fassbender is able to create a character that is sporadically charming, terrifying, and– dare I say it- at times very relatable.
Underneath the veneer of chaos lies a nicely crafted film that sets out to explore what happens when we dare to take an honest look beyond our facades. Its anthemic ending will stay with you for weeks, and will probably encourage you to be a little more open, a little more straightforward, a little more Frank.