Frank

Release: Friday, September 5, 2014 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Jon Ronson; Peter Straughan

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Any film that strives to turn Domhnall Gleeson into a thoroughly unlikable character is one I’m uncomfortable watching. Frank is just such a film.

Focusing on an aspiring musician who stumbles upon an eccentric pop band with an unpronounceable name (they call themselves The Soronprfbs), this oddball comedy does its best to distance itself from an audience looking to make connections with key characters. Its best is more than enough.

After witnessing a drowning at a local beach, Jon (Gleeson) finds himself being ushered into the band. They have a show to play that night and they need his help filling in on keyboards as that was in fact their keyboardist trying to drown himself. Excited for the opportunity, he shows up for a bizarre display of nonconformist musicianship, the heir apparent to a suicidal keyboardist — what a great guy.

Jon initially assumes his role in the band would be that of a temporary hired-gun. His involvement soon extends to filling in on a more permanent basis as The Soronprfbs seclude themselves in an isolated cabin in the Irish countryside to record a full album. Jon bemoans the fact no one told him this would be more than a weekend gig, citing he has to return to work as soon as possible. His kidnappers don’t much care though, for they have a lot of work to do. Seemingly this is now his job, trying to find a way to fit in amongst a crew of ragtags who themselves don’t fit in elsewhere.

There’s the dude who first offers Jon the chance to play, Don (Scoot McNairy). His determination to become someone he’s not is simultaneously driving him mad. We’ve got the non-English speaking Baraque (François Civil) and Nana (Carla Azar), who don’t do much beyond moping about and remaining wary about Jon’s presence. Then, chief among the antagonists — I’m sure none of these people are meant to be perceived that way but let’s just say these are some talented actors here — is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, a nutcase who takes an instant dislike to Jon and makes life in the band a living nightmare for him. Her role is akin to that of someone you come across in your early grade school years who constantly picks on you, but all along the bullying is that person’s way of saying they dig your vibe.

Unfortunately the only person’s vibe I can really dig in this oppressively odd film is Michael Fassbender and his papier-mâché head/mask. As Frank, Fassbender is simultaneously the leader of The Soronprfbs and the stand-out acting talent. He’s empathetic given the obviousness and severity of his mental condition. He’ll never remove the head/mask, a fact that yields all sorts of questions ranging from his ability to function in social settings to his general hygiene. Answers to a few of these are admittedly provided with a compelling, brutal honesty when Jon is able to convince the band to make an appearance at the SXSW festival, where he hopes their efforts to represent a very . . . different . . . music experience will finally provide them an audience willing to reciprocate their uniqueness. It’s an undertaking that does not at all go according to plan.

Despite few of the members being likable on any level, it’s clear there are sides to be taken in this awkward, personal tug-of-war. Jon’s main purpose is to become the wedge between Frank and the rest of the band. Amidst the hostility and intolerance that defines The Soronprfbs’ dysfunction there exists this competition to be ‘the next Frank.’ It’s a mentality that explains Clara’s treatment of Jon — she doesn’t believe he has any talent or originality whatsoever and is trying too hard to be like Frank; a mentality that also sums up the fates of other members who have stepped out of the band.

Abrahamson’s fourth directorial effort manifests as a sincere reflection of mental illness but sadly this is a production difficult to enjoy or even sympathize with. An hour-and-a-half featuring people arguing and making something akin to music. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Recommendation: If kinky films are what you dig, then maybe Frank will be something you might enjoy. With disagreeable characters, languid pacing and a band that makes no sense, it is a difficult one to recommend to anyone else. Even though the characters are largely detestable, my bigger issue is that it combined that with a theme of social anxiety that didn’t really work. Plus the film feels so much longer than 95 minutes would suggest. I was prepared for a different kind of watch, but maybe not one this repellent. It’s almost as if the film was actively trying not to be enjoyable.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “Stale beer. Fat f**ked, smoked out. Cowpoked. Sequined mountain ladies. I love your wall. Put your arms around me. Fiddly digits, itchy britches. I love you all.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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29 thoughts on “Frank

  1. I am SO with you on this one Tom. I went into this after all those rave reviews and I just found it weird and bizarre and totally not my scene. I don’t know, it didn’t appeal to me on any level :/

    • Awesome! I have found another member of the anti-Frank group! Hehe. I think it is a small one, but yeah. This film tried way too hard. Didn’t work for me, but I give credit to the actors for playing up their roles well. Especially the Fass losing himself in this exceptionally odd lead

  2. Have to disagree with you on this one Tom. I found it a truly engaging experience; both funny, touching and ultimately a sincere film about mental illness and the perception of genius and madness being two sides of the same coin.

    • Hey, if we were always in agreement on everything this critiquing business would be quite boring, eh? I just couldn’t find the power to look past these characters man. I tried but Frank himself was the only thing I really liked. Definitely a well-made film though.

  3. Hey Tom, that was an interesting read, and not only because it’s the first negative review I’ve read for Frank. Personally I enjoyed it and thought it was quite an entertaining look at fame and artistic integrity, but it seems you just didn’t get on with any of the characters apart from Fassbender’s, so I can certainly see why you’ve given it just the three slices! I liked Gleeson’s character a lot more than you did, just as an example, even if it all goes wrong because of his actions.

    • Certainly an interesting movie but just not one I enjoyed much. 🙂 The characters were largely to blame but I also think the band itself, The Soronprfbs, was just an irritating little bit. They were just. . . impossible to figure out. Definitely a well-acted piece though, so I don’t think the four slices would’ve hurt but, eh. . .I don’t know. Felt like being harsh with this one. Haha!

  4. “Oppressively odd film” is a good way to put it. I can’t say I found this to be an enjoyable watch even though there are some decent quirky humour moments. The character Frank is pretty interesting yet the mental illness aspect didn’t quite work for me either. 😦 I guess I’m saying I have mixed feelings about this film haha. Good review!

    • This review is probably a tad harsh but I just had a lot of expectations going in. Wanted to enjoy myself SO much more than I ended up doing. That said, there are fantastic performances across the board but unfortunately (for me) the roles themselves weren’t ones I really liked experiencing, particularly with regards to Maggie Gyllenhaal. My feelings are definitely more negative than positive but oh well. That’s how it goes sometimes!

      Thanks man.

      • Totally enjoyed reading your take on Frank and I love reviews that capture exactly how the writers feels. Yeah Maggie’s character is so unlikable, thought she might ease up by the end but I guess not haha.

  5. Great write-up as per usual mate. Bummer you didn’t dig this. I really loved it, it really says a lot about the stresses of trying to play music with other people. Among other things. I loved the chemistry between Gleeson and Gylenhaal, even if they were at each others throats!

    Surely you dug the final scene? It gave me goosebumps… I love the soundtrack to this film.

    With you on Fassbender. He was fantastic. Especially at the end ;D

    • the ending scene was just damn weird to me, as was this whole film but I will say I liked the reveal. I won’t say anymore than that as its kind of a big (spoiler) deal. But I’m happy to hear you dug it man. I wish I could say the same. . .

      • That is fair enough. I like weird 😉 I think I got a bit more out of it too cos I’ve played music a lot with other people. Or maybe not, who knows! ;P this is far from a perfect movie tho I will say that

  6. I really liked Frank. I agree that the characters aren’t the most likeable but I still really enjoyed the vibe of the film. Fassbender was great though and I actually really liked the songs!

    • Very cool Mikey. I’m glad someone has found enjoyment in this. In fact it has been welcomed by a lot of people, judging by big sites like RT and IMDb. I just couldn’t get over how bitchy Gyllenhaal was in particular. Gleeson was a turd too, but I think the one thing we can all agree on is how good Fassbender is. Quite a great and different role for him.

    • Yeah, truth be told I was pretty disappointed I came away from this one . . . uh, disappointed. Lol! I was wanting to watch it badly and then I did and . . . . . . . .

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