Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a man stuck in a dead end job, who dreams of making music. The trouble is, he has no idea how to start, and few engaging ideas for songs. When he encounters a band led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), Jon finds himself playing keyboard in the band, and on his way to a remote house in Ireland to record an album. It is not long, however, before Jon wonders if he has bitten off more than he can chew.
Written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, Frank is inspired by Ronson’s time in Frank Sidebottom’s band in the 1970s. The film originally began life as a story based on Ronson’s time with Sidebottom – the comic persona of Chris Sivey – but soon became a work of fiction, inspired by the man in the papier-mâché head.
Domhnall Gleeson continues his run of making good choices with Frank and, as Jon, is the voice of reason and the voice of the audience in the film; when bombarded with the oddball ways of Frank’s band The Soronprfbs, Jon finds himself wondering what he has got himself into. Gleeson is warm and gentle, and slightly lost in Frank’s world, but this makes him relatable, and gives the film a warm heart.
The other side of the coin is Michael Fassbender as Frank himself. As odd and unpredictable as Jon is warm and kind, Fassbender seems to truly lose himself in the character of Frank; he is mysterious and engaging, while managing to be funny and utterly vulnerable. Maggie Gyllenhaal is fantastic as the caustic and distrustful Clara, and Scoot McNairy is the slightly peculiar, slightly sane glue that holds the two sides of the band together.
On the surface, Frank is a film about a band who never wanted to be famous, yet crave love and attention from the mainstream that they find themselves on the margins of. Ronson’s screenplay, however, is deeper than it seems, and deals with the ideas of creativity, belonging and the still taboo subject of mental illness. There is a vein of dark, oddball humour that runs through the film, largely comprised of the chemistry between the three leads, and the contrasts shown between Frank and Jon. That said, however, Frank does feel as though it is three films rolled into one, and it is hard, at times, to see how these stories will come together, and what resolution can be had.
Director Lenny Abrahamson seamlessly moved between his last film – What Richard Did, which dealt with another semi-true story, of accidental death and its repercussions – and the tragic-comic world of Frank. Abrahamson seems to have encouraged his actors to let themselves go and immerse themselves in this odd little bubble, and what emerges are deeply damaged and vulnerable characters, trying to make the best of their lives.
Frank is a dark, funny and tragic story of friendship, creativity and mental illness, all bound together by the relationship between the band and the outsider who threatens their entire way of life. Fassbender is wonderful as the engaging and damaged Frank, Gleeson shines as the endearing voice of reason and Gyllenhaal rises to the challenge of being caustic and caring, often within the same scene. Ronson and Abrahamson are a match made in movie heaven and although Frank may not be a comedy through and through, it is hard not to warm to this madcap, offbeat world.