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Frank

Graham Eley

There’s a knowing conceit at the heart of this strikingly idiosyncratic quasi-musical from Lenny Abrahamson that brings together a nerdy wannabe and a talented misfit in an unlikely friendship with no obvious common ground – opposite ends of the cultural spectrum – other than a spectacular naivety.

 

They share a casual warmth that masks a potentially dangerous cocktail with one embracing the cult of celebrity and the other despising it to the core but wanting his music heard.  Both characters are lacking something that they occasionally glimpse in the other, but it serves to compound their differences rather than setting up one of those predictable ‘buddy’ compromises, which all too often plague softer indie fare.

 

We find them on the side-lines – outsiders – just like the protagonists from Abrahamson’s first two features, ‘Adam & Paul’ and ‘Garage’, and where the title character from his other, ‘What Richard Did’, ends up.  A quiet poignancy runs through all these films that simply exists, flowing from wider society so naturally that we absorb it almost without thought.  And when there is a slight turn in the action that brings the characters into sharper focus – Josie’s painfully cruel ‘light bulb’ moment in ‘Garage’ – it is all the more affecting.

 

In this one, Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a DIY songwriter and keyboard player with a mundane white collar job, dreaming of being a star.  He reminds us of a contestant on a reality TV talent show ‘X Factor’ style, who warrants an instant dismissal from the judges but is too boring to face an abject public execution by laughter.

 

He gets an (un)lucky break; a chance to fill in as the keyboard player for an edgy touring band The Soronprfbs – don’t try and pronounce it – which treats mental illness as a badge of honour.

 

Enter Frank, loosely based on Chris Sievey’s creation Frank Sidebottom but it’s not a biopic.  What a beguiling character this is; always wearing, on and off stage, a giant papier-mâché cartoon head with a foreboding semi-startled expression – we can’t take our eyes off him, a ready-made frontman for any fringe band with attitude.  He’s unique, shifting his music from the primal to the cosmic and back again but never in between and a perfectionist in an OCD sort of way that creates an unresolvable but irresistible tension with an overpowering drive to improvise.  But Michael Fassbender defies our expectations in the title role, making Frank’s movements as open as his mask is closed and offering us a partial portrait rather than a complete enigma; a tantalising peep that occasionally becomes more.

 

The rest of the band worship Frank as a spiritual leader – a deity, a demigod – and can see straight through Jon, the interloper who doesn’t realise it.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is superb as Clara, who is so in tune with Frank’s music that she almost becomes his alter ego in the same way as Charlie Rouse might have been to Thelonious Monk.  She wears a permanent psycho grimace that’s as much a mask as Frank’s but, somehow, conceals far more.

 

This is an engaging film that wears its cynicism lightly and has much to say about the institutionalisation of a mainstream, which has potential for excluding everybody.  It wouldn’t have surprised Louis Althusser.cialis vs genericorder cialis online with mastercard generic cialis from india safe cialis online 40mg cialis online pharmacy india cialis price increase 2016 cialis online cheapest prices

  • Year: 2014
  • Country: UK
  • Filmmaker: Lenny Abrahamson
  • Screenwriter: Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan
  • Producer: David Barron, Ed Guiney, Stevie Lee and Andrew Lowe
  • Cinematographer: James Mather
  • Editor: Nathan Nugent
  • Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy
  • Duration: 95 mins
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