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3 September 2014

Film Review: Frank

About half an hour into the movie, Domhnall Gleeson stares at Michael Fassbender – who’s wearing an oblong mask with blank blue eyes, plasticized hair and a slightly surprised, open mouth – and asks the question we’re all wondering: “Why do you wear that?”

There’s no simple answer. And this is not a simple movie. As Gleeson is told early on: “You’re just going to have to go with it.” But surrender to the brilliant, tragicomic storytelling and absorb the zany music- you will certainly leave Frank with your heart swelling and your feet tapping.  

Frank is a humorous dramatization of the real-life Frank Sidebottom, the alter-ego of British comedian and musician Chris Sievey. Sievey was a popular performer of the Oh Blimey Big Band through the 1980s. He was a curious musician, who happily ruined important performances and donned his own fiberglass head for days.  

Keyboardist Jon Ronson (a screenwriter for this film) toured with Sievey, documenting the performer’s strange behaviors and blending real-life elements with fabricated details for the movie. Ronson’s character is the basis for Gleeson’s fictionalized Jon.

 Together, the impossible to pronounce Soronprfbs band records a baffling album in the mountains of Ireland. Jon juggles the band’s social media, slowly building up a fan base with humorous Twitter posts that light up the screen. Frank’s journey to deal with the illusion of fame is his downfall, and the hysterical, tragic events that follow are a roller coaster of emotions. 

Fassbender is a gem in this indie role, which is far removed from his repertoire of slave owners, sex addicts and super villains. His talent shines through the motionless mask, and you can almost see the myriad of emotions crossing Frank’s face. Mostly, Fassbender is funny. It’s refreshing to see him take on a lighter role, even if it is with streaks of dark humor. When Frank voices his hidden facial expressions – “flattered grin, followed by bashful half smile” – the audience roars. 

The music itself is unintelligible, though funny and experimental. Despite the odd noises of the band, there’s real talent behind the mess: Carla Azar, Nana the drummer, collaborates  with Jack White. Fassbender has a rich, baritone voice that resounds in the indie pop song, “I Love You All.”

Frankmay not be for everyone. Go for the absurdity of this idea and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the result. It’s a completely ridiculous concept, yet it reflects truths about creativity, fame and finding one’s self in an unusual pattern. It’s a perfect way to close out summer – a quiet, smoldering triumph that hits all the right notes.

“Frank” will be playing at O Cinema Wynwood through Sept. 11. For show times, visit o-cinema.org/event/frank/.