A man wearing a giant fake head. A band full of oddballs, real oddballs. Is this a film about those characters we meet in life – if we’re lucky enough – that exist at the edges of normal?
Based on the real life experiences of writer Jon Ronson, Frank starts with Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a talentless wannabe musician who, through a chance encounter with a band manager, gets to play keyboard in the supremely odd band with an unpronounceable name, headed by front-man Frank (Michael Fassbender). Job interview: ‘Can you play C, F and G? You’re in.’
Jon plays one gig then gets offered another and jumps at it, only to discover the band are heading off to the woods and will leave once the album is recorded.
Gleeson is a great fit for Jon. He needs to be likeable, but also a little offbeat. And, whilst Fassbender’s Frank is the enigmatic and mercurial figure that steals scenes – waving his arms dancing wildly, finding musical inspiration in everyday objects, addressing a German family in their native tongue – it’s Jon that drives the story.
This is his tale and experience of trying to fit into a group that themselves don’t fit into the world. And there’s the rub. Jon wants to be one of them but wants notoriety, which puts him at odds with the band, particularly the volatile Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
His efforts lead them to a festival in the US and it’s here where the film comes somewhat undone, losing the focus it had in the early half. Screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan (the chaps behind The Men Who Stare At Goats) perhaps lost their way.
Or maybe it’s just the case that these characters work better in a tighter, simpler setting. Maybe that’s the point the filmmakers were trying to make – one echoed by Gyllenhaal’s Clara – but it didn’t entirely hold together leading up to the film’s final scene.
Tonally though, this movie is interesting and puts me in mind of Little Miss Sunshine or The Life Aquatic. It’s been described as a musical comedy which, in some instances, is accurate (it has music and comedy), but it’s perhaps more tragic in tone. Frank is the sort of role you might expect Johnny Depp to have played, so it’s refreshing to see someone like Fassbender take it on and add another string to his mighty acting bow.
Ultimately there’s a fair amount to love about this film and feels like you’d get more out of it on repeat viewings. It’s a little slow in places (some of the middle and most of the final third), but it’s highly original and quirky, albeit not hugely cinematic. And Fassbender can definitely do quirky, who knew. Now, if only someone could cast him in a Wes Anderson movie.