Film Review: “Frank”

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Frank, 2014

dir. Lenny Abrahamson

★★★★☆

In true Jon Ronson (who wrote the book upon which this film is based) fashion, Frank is somewhat tragically hilarious, pleasantly quirky, infinitely amusing, and absolutely touching. It deals surprisingly well with mental illness issues, especially regarding the idea that most of the time, mental illness is inherent and not borne out of any kind of trauma.

In the film, we follow Domhnall Gleeson’s character, Jon, who wants to play the keyboard in a band and who is obsessed with tweeting and blogging on tumblr. He meets the band by accident one afternoon and in a twist of fate, ends up joining them as they shut themselves in a cabin in an Irish island to record their album. Frank (Michael Fassbender) is the musical genius of the band, and everyone loves him. Jon him idolises him somewhat, and that created an unpleasant friction between him and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, who is incredibly protective of Frank due to his unstable mental state.

From then on, the story gets funny, dramatic, and sometimes absurd, as we witness them creating the odd music the band is known for, and Jon struggles to fit in (and never really succeeds).

There isn’t much of a plot per se to this film, it’s much more a character study of Frank through Jon’s narration. The audience get to know Frank through the eyes of someone who idolises him, sees him as a sort of messiah, who is constantly wondering about what lies under that fake head, and when we finally reach the end when we discover the true nature of Frank, it’s upsetting.

Gleeson creates a character who is both lovely and awful at once. We are nearly fooled by him, completely entranced by how much he cares about Frank, and, like him, completely forget about the implications of his actions. He’s not a mumbling, fumbling idiot, but he is a bit of a coward, and proves himself to be both loveable and hateful, which is an impressive feat.

However, amazing as all the performances are, it is Michael Fassbender who deserves the high praises. For the whole film, his face is covered by the mask, and he has to do the hardest thing for an actor, which is act with a static face. And yet, Frank is the sweetest, loveliest person in the film. Fassbender brings a warmth to the role that is rare to his characters (which are often brooding, anguished, angsty men), and he absolutely shines. With only his voice and body language, he shows us that you don’t need an overly expressive face to convey emotions. His whole demeanour changes from the Fassbender we are used to – it is truly a magical thing to watch.

Besides Frank himself, what is most impressive  about this is the music. I would describe it as the polar opposite of Inside Llewyn Davis by the Coen brothers, because it is loud, nonsensical, and insane. There is a montage of the band recording sounds from trees and water, and creating their own instruments, which illustrates perfectly what the music sounds like. It is like a science project, like something improvised using common household object, and yet somehow, it works! It is not pleasant music in any way (at least not to my ears, but musical taste is rather subjective), but it functions with the rest of the film.

Still, even with all the good things this film does, it does feel a bit like two different stories. From the moment the leave the cabin, it’s like another film started, and that took me out of the story for a bit. A lot of set ups do pay off, which is great, but the pace changes slightly, and it is unsettling for a long while. Though that was perhaps the intention of the director, I don’t think it worked particularly well. It’s not something that ruins the film, however.

Anyway, Frank is a fantastic film. Just another one of the great cinematographic experiences that came out this year, and I think everyone should see it. Could not recommend it more.

review by Mariana Duarte

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