02/06/2015 - Last night, we watched Lenny Abrahamson’s 2014 comedy Frank. Written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, it’s a quirky-but-charming film about a band of misfit musicians pursuing their dreams, although it ultimately fades to a much more self-serious drama about a group of actual misfits barely keeping themselves alive. It is based on a true story, although most certainly some liberties have been taken. You can read about the very real Frank Sidebottom here.
I will say this: it’s a fun movie. Rather, most of it is a fun movie. Michael Fassbender is phenomenal as the title character, a witless musical genius idolized by all who meet him. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance as is equally mesmerizing as Clara, as the brooding, cynical keyboardist hell-bent on both protecting Frank and pursuing her own agenda of artful rock-making.
And I’d be lying to say that I didn’t like the music … I liked it quite a lot. In fact, this might be where the film began to peel apart, for me; I didn’t know if I was supposed to like it. Is the music supposed to be unapproachable, as misfortuned as its players? Or did these hapless saps unknowingly stumble into something musically magical?
Or maybe that’s the point?
I spent some time trying to understand if Abrahamson was making a point. A point about society; a point about loyalty; a point about the music industry; a point about art in the 21st century. And now I’ve quite given up on that worry, and decided to appreciate the film without caring about its point; whatever the point is, I’ll probably not like it anyway.
What Frank so effortlessly captures is both the nirvana of losing oneself to the making of music, and the absolute wall-punching frustration of doing so fruitlessly. The “main” character of Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) is likable enough and passionate enough, but lacking so much in the raw materials of musical talent that his efforts fail at every turn. Frank, in turn, seems absolutely unable to keep the musical ideas inside his gargantuan papier-mâché head.
It begins as the sort of film that makes you smile, makes you want it to last forever. It makes you want to be there, with them. I want to meet Frank. I want to be Frank.
And then it all very suddenly gets very real in a very real world and with very real reasons for how and why and who these larger-than-life people really are and … well, I didn’t like that part of the movie very much. And I’m not right or wrong for not liking it; I just felt a bit robbed of the fantasy the first three-quarters of the film had so effortlessly crafted. I loved that fantasy and I wanted that fantasy and now we all find out it was probably only just a fantasy.
Because at the end of the day, I wanted a movie about Frank. I wanted to wake up this morning and be Frank, shortcomings and all; I wanted to make beautiful, strange music and touch the souls of those I meet even in perfectly normal situations.
Instead, we got a movie about Jon. And I’ve always been a Jon. I woke up this morning, still a Jon. And I know that even if there was a point to Frank, I probably don’t want to know it; whatever the point, the moral, the message … I’ll still just be a Jon, with nothing more than some fond, fuzzy memories of thinking I’d become something I’m not.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
I'd recommend seeing Frank, but maybe rent it or borrow a copy from a friend. It's not something I'd need to have on my shelf, but it's worth watching for Fassbender's performance and the really fun music.