12th May2014

‘Frank’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Domnhall Gleeson, Scoot Mcnairy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tess Harper, Hayley Derryberry, Mark Huberman | Written by Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan | Directed by Lenny Abrahamson


Frank, the latest film from the supremely promising Lenny Abrahamson, is perhaps one of the most passive-aggressive films ever made. A film which brings people in with the promise of Michael Fassbender only to have him wear a giant Frank Sidebottom head throughout. A film which seems to have been given permissions and access by the oh-so-hip SXSW festival and the titan of social media, Twitter, only to have the film acidically mock and berate those who attend and use them respectively. A film that casts the likeable Domnhall Gleeson as our narrator through its crazy journey only to have him succumb to ever higher levels of being an awful human being, albeit one who feels like he could be just like many members of the audience (hey, maybe even me). But, you know what? The result is a bit of a triumph.

Frank may be the first truly essential post-Twitter film and surprisingly so. Throughout the runtime, our protagonist/antagonist Jon, is obsessed with getting his voice heard in the echo chamber that is social media. His hopes are raised not through the creation of music, which is the sole reason he finds himself in the company of Frank and his band, but instead through the fact that anonymous people are listening to what he is saying, and it is this aspect of his personality which detrimentally rubs off on Fassbender’s Frank. Domnhall Gleeson subverts his friendly everyman image well, acting under the auspices of being a music fan who wants to help those around him but really just wanting to be up on a stage with people applauding, something which culminates in an oddly chilling scene which also points an accusing finger at the hipster culture of today.

The scenes of frustrated creative expression throughout are also key. While the sight of Frank running around a field trying to attack someone in order to get a sound is initially funny, events are tinged with darkness early on with Scoot Mcnairy putting in a solid shift as Frank’s longtime friend who has an awful lot of things in his basement (as Rocky Balboa once aptly put it). A second watch of the film will be of great interest as once your knowledge of the full story is gained, certain scenes may well play a lot more darkly than you would first think. Abrahamson is careful in not crossing a line into making fun of a socially uncomfortable topic though and in fact, if he has any issues its with making us believe in rather more ordinary things such as a romantic coupling which never particularly works, although Maggie Gyllenhaal’s romantic interest/obstacle performance for most of the film is caustic but nicely layered also.

Abrahamson even manages to get a rather moving performance from Fassbender despite the fact we often see him with only one expression, Frank coming off as by far the most engaging character in the film, and one for whom a quiet triumph late on in the film is one of the most moving things I’ve seen on screen in a while.

Subverting expectations and essentially demanding a re-watch straight after, Frank is a quietly angry rage against what it means to be socially acceptable and is brilliant for it. With sublime performances, terrifically entertaining music and a dark comi-tragedy age, it’s a film which deserves to be remembered and one from which hopefully some lessons can be learnt about how we interact and attempt to influence in this day and age.

****½  4.5/5


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