Frank


Dir: Lenny Abrahamson. Ireland/UK. 2013. 95mins

An unapologetically idiosyncratic glimpse into creativity, ambition and mental illness, Frank falters more than it soars, but its portrait of a band led by a deeply odd frontman seems to have all the makings of a cult item -- a deserving fate for a movie about a determinedly avant-garde group. Starring Michael Fassbender in a performance where his face is hidden inside a giant fake head, this comedy from director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) struggles to find its groove, but even then there's some fascination in watching this film follow the beat of its own unusual drum.

Retreating behind that fake head, Frank is clearly troubled, but only as the movie rolls along do we finally get the full sense of that hidden anguish.

Frank world-premiered at Sundance, and from there it should attract buyers thanks to the participation of Fassbender, although the fact that one barely sees his face in the film could prove a marketing challenge. The mixture of genres -- musical, quirky comedy, melancholy drama -- may also throw some viewers, but Frank seems geared for midnight-movie fans and other lovers of left-of-the-dial strangeness.

Loosely inspired by musician-comedian Chris Sievey's Frank Sidebottom -- a fictional character with a comically large artificial head -- Frank tells the story of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a budding musician who lucks into becoming the keyboardist for an experimental pop band called The Soronprfbs, who are led by a man who goes by Frank (Fassbender). Brandishing his fake-head persona, Frank has never revealed his face to his bandmates, including his close confidant and creative partner Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a severe woman who takes an instant disliking to young Jon.

The film divides roughly into two parts. In the first section, Jon, Frank and the rest of The Soronprfbs (including their manager, played by Scoot McNairy) begin developing their sound, which includes camping out in the woods for 18 months to painstakingly work on their new album. After that, Frank finds the band journeying from Ireland to the South By Southwest music festival in Texas in the hopes of breaking big.

Frank's opening half is the less interesting segment, with Abrahamson unable to find much new to say about the delicate chemistry of band line-ups, the challenges of coming up with good songs, or the comic peculiarities of demanding artists. (With that said, the mere sight of Frank's oversized fake head, and its creepily blank expression, adds a nice deadpan commentary to everything that takes place.)

While Frank is presented as an oddball genius and an enigmatic creative force, there isn't enough evidence in the film to back up the other characters' belief in his talent. …

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