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Frank - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B-
Acting: B+
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

It's been a while since I had much patience for movies that are highly enamored with their own quirkiness. Frank is getting solid critical praise, but this is a bandwagon I can't jump on with all that much gusto.

I mean, okay, there are definitely much weirder and less coherent movies -- Mood Indigo immediately comes to mind -- but the best I can come up with for Frank is that it is deceptively coherent. But I'm not sure what justification there is for the level of eccentricity among virtually all of its characters.

That's not to say it isn't engaging. To be sure, Michael Fassbender delivers a fascinating performance. He spends nearly all of his screen time wearing a giant fake head. Eventually we learn that he has an unspecified "mental illness." One might debate the sensitivity of this movie's portrayal of mental illness. On the one hand, Frank is a surprisingly multi-dimensional character given the lack of motion in any part of his giant, static face. (He does helpfully say certain expressions out loud.) On the other hand, his condition has no specificity beyond "I have a certificate!" It's odd to be so generic about something in a truly unique character.

There's another problem, though. This may just be my problem. Frank is essentially the leader of a band. The story is narrated through tweets and blog posts by budding English musician John Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), who is picked up almost randomly as the keyboard player when the previous one attempts to drown himself. Most of the film takes place in an isolated house by a lake, where the band is recording a record. As such, Frank is filled with a lot of music. Except it's very odd, experimental rock music. This movie would be a lot more engaging if the music were actually good.

John is apparently good at jamming with the band, but has no songwriting talent, much to his chagrin. Frank is presented as by far the most musically talented of the bunch. Judging by their finished product, though, that doesn't seem to be saying much.

Frank may be the only one wearing a giant head, but the rest of the band is almost pointedly made up of oddballs as well. The drummer and bass player speak exclusively in French. The guitar player met Frank in a psych ward, because he has a thing for "fucking mannequins" (his words) and can only perform sexually with live women if he convinces then to lie completely still. The supremely jealous and possibly unhinged Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) isn't kidding when she threatens to stab John if he fucks things up.

Most of this is fine, depending on presentation. I get a little stuck on logistics. Even John does: "How does he brush his teeth?" he asks. We never get an answer. Frank eats everything through a straw -- which makes it difficult to see how he maintains a body like Michael Fassbender's. For that matter, we're told that he never takes the head off -- he even sleeps in it. We're even treated to a shot that proves he showers in it. Clearly he has to take it off to change his shirt.

The band goes back to the States, and ends up playing South by Southwest. How the hell does that happen?

Things don't exactly work out as they'd hoped. Of course not; otherwise there would be no movie. But Frank isn't all it's cracked up to be. This is the kind of indie film that gets easily overrated. It does have its redeeming qualities. The performances are generally solid. For a movie of this sort, there's some surprisingly lovely cinematography. It's never boring, and that's not nothing. Clearly some talented people put this together. In the end, unfortunately, it's less than the sum of its parts.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson take eccentricity to new lengths in FRANK.

Overall: B-
1 comment or Leave a comment
fatpie42 From: fatpie42 Date: September 4th, 2014 06:55 am (UTC) (Link)
You say that the music is a problem, but having not yet seen the movie I already love a song from it:

Your lowest rating is for the writing, but for me the writer is actually the main appeal. Jon Ronson based this story on his experiences with the band The Freshies, helmed by Frank Sidebottom, a fictional character in a mask. From what I've heard (and your review seems to back this up), Jon has self-deprecatingly had the character based upon himself be creepy and untalented.

Jon Ronson was responsible for a non-fiction book called "The Men Who Stare At Goats", but when that was adapted into a film (with a fictional story making use of Ronson's bizarre real life discoveries) Ronson apparently didn't work on the screenplay. This time Jon Ronson co-wrote the screenplay with the guy who wrote the "Men Who Stare At Goats" screenplay. But Jon Ronson normally writes about his experiences with weird people (he was doing the "Louis Theroux's Weird Weekend" thing before Louis Theroux was. Let me know if you don't already know about that tv programme). He might not be quite so talented in terms of screenplay writing (and certainly Peter Straughan's script for "The Men Who Stare At Goats" seemed to fall apart in the third act).

B- isn't a bad score, mind you. I'll be interested to let you know what I think when I finally check this out. Still, while everyone seems to think it's worth watching, very few people actually seem to love the film.
1 comment or Leave a comment