Friday, 3 July 2015
[MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW]
I watched Frank on Netflix last night and wasn't at all surprised that it's as weird as the trailer suggests. But don’t let that put you off.
In what’s probably a very sensible option for a film about a man with a papier mache head, we see the story through the eyes of a much more conventional character – Domhnall Gleeson’s Jon, an everyman with musical ambitions and not as much songwriting talent as he’d like.
After a bizarre encounter on a beach, Jon ends up covering for the keyboardist in experimental band the Soronprfbs, led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender). He’s soon invited back to stay with them in an Irish countryside retreat as they compose their debut album. All of this takes about fifteen minutes; it’s a very efficient first act that introduces us to all the characters and the dark humour which characterises the film – the band manager casually tells Jon how he was sent to a mental hospital due to his sexual preference for mannequins. It’s Jon’s typical British awkwardness which makes him the perfect counterpoint to all the bizarre goings-on – he replies to this revelation by clumsily changing the subject to the boat setting off.
As work on the album progresses, Jon blogs about his experiences and begins to promote the band online – and Frank gives us one of the better uses of social media in film I’ve seen. Rather than being at all gimmicky, the integrated tweets and tumblr posts are funny, tonally fitting, and even develop the plot.
Of course, just when the Soronprfbs are getting big, all goes wrong, and Jon has to give up on getting the public to like the band in order to concentrate on getting the band to like each other again – a fitting and emotional subversion of all that had been built up to. Frank avoids the cliché of the big concert finale, with the final number low key but nevertheless touching.
In a vital late scene, Frank’s parents tell Jon about his struggles with mental illness; “The torment didn’t make the music. If anything, it slowed him down.” – this coming after Jon had wondered whether the reason for his lack of skill was lack of torment to draw on. It’s a revelation key to the film’s subtle exploration of mental illness, and that asks important questions of our perception of ‘tortured’ artists.
A film that draws you in with its weird charm and dark humour then leaves you thinking about the serious issues it deals with, and with the very catchy final song stuck in your head.
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