Fantasia 2014: Frank is this year’s most heartwarming film about a gigantic head

frankposterFrank
Written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughn
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
UK/Ireland, 2014

Frank follows a post-internet age Billy Liar and asks, “What if he did follow his dream through, but his idol was a lunatic?” Jon (Domnhall Gleeson), a young middling English songwriter, gets invited to play keyboard for the aforementioned Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank wears a giant fake head made of papier-mâché and refuses to take it off. Soon, Jon is invited to spend a year in Ireland with the band as they record their painstakingly overblown album, all the while secretly filming it and posting clips to YouTube.

Fassbender’s American accent sounds like a cross between Stephen Wright and Jeff Daniels, and though you can’t see his face under that giant head, Frank touches you. The film’s eccentricities are only enhanced by the complete lack of ambition compelling the band; by their willingness to forfeit any kind of fame for love of creation. While Jon’s Youtube videos propel the band to curious success, Frank and his bandmates (particularly love interest Maggie Gyllenhaal) are soon forced to come to terms with celebrity. This makes Jon the odd man out, always striving toward some kind of mainstream popularity while having no discernible talent.

Frank was inspired by cult British singer Frank Sidebottom (aka Chris Sievey), but only very loosely. As a film, it has more in common with documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, including connections to Austin, Texas and a personality driven by a kind of quirky warmth, ultimately driven by something darker. As dark as what drives Fassbender’s character is, Ronson and Straugn’s script keep the tone light and always funny.

Frank

Ronson’s last adaptation of his journalistic work, The Men Who Stare At Goats, played a lot of the same narrative short-hands by using a Ronson-esque identification character. But in Frank, Jon is even less of an outsider and enough of his own character to blend in to the story. It helps that, like everyone in the band, Jon plays his own instrument. By their climactic show in Austin (with a song recently performed live on The Colbert Report), the cast looks and acts like a real band – one that never entirely meshes together due to the personality conflicts that have unfolded throughout. That heartfelt performance is just one of the many earnest moments that elevate Frank beyond just a pretentious exercise.

— Kenny Hedges

Please visit the official website of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

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