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Review of the Year 2014: Frank

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With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is up.

The idea of attributing the title of ‘best’ to one single movie is fraught with more danger than the average Jerry Bruckheimer film. On top of that, 2014 has been a pretty virulent year for quality. You see, if I had to choose a movie that was so exciting it made me consume more popcorn than my guideline daily allowance of corn would necessitate, it would be easy. Guardians of the Galaxy. Or if I had to choose a movie that redefined where the edge of my seat was? Edge of Tomorrow. 2014’s funniest film? The Lego Movie. By crikey, I loved the Lego Movie.

During the credits, I turned to my wife and uttered one word to sum up the awe and respect bubbling in my brainium: “Huh”

But it was another, quirky, Irish movie that had a more significant and powerful effect on me. It stopped me dead in my thought process. Through the closing credits I remember thinking one thing, that singular thought possessing such potency it caused me to continue sitting (a particular feat given my propensity for bathroom breaks) long after the credits. I turned to my wife and uttered one word which to me glibly summed up the awe and respect bubbling in my brainium: “Huh.” Tarantino would struggle to write dialogue so verbose.

You see, the final credits belonged to Frank. Frank is the tale of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), an aspiring musician. Following a member’s attempted suicide, Jon is invited to join experimental touring band The Soronprfbs. He immediately strikes a connection with Frank (Michael Fassbender), the lead singer who never takes off his papier mache Frank Sidebottom mask. Following an arguably successful show (the band’s theremin player, a delightfully caustic Maggie Gyllenhaal, storms off stage), he joins the band on tour.

frank inset

Frank was co-written by the ever excellent Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test). Extremely loosely based on Ronson’s Oh Blimey!, which documents his time travelling with 80s comedian and musician Frank Sidebottom, the bulk of the film sees The Soronprfbs lock themselves away in a remote location to write an album, before being invited to play South by Southwest festival in Austin. Equal parts hilarity and melancholy ensue.

Frank is about remaining true to your art, to others around you and, most importantly, to the artist within yourself

Predictably, Michael Fassbender is incredible as the movie’s eponymous singer. Through Frank’s lack of facial expressions, a hindrance leading to some of the film’s wittiest moments, to his crooning of the band’s standout track I Love You All, he owns this movie. The film was criticised by some for being a typical tale of ‘band chases success’, but the themes run much deeper than that, and the secret of the story’s beauty lies in the use of Frank as a foil for the narrative.

Jon, played beautifully by Domhnall Gleeson, is the film’s true protagonist, but it is Frank that reflects his faults back at him, leading to a wonderfully subversive final act in which Jon leaves the band having failed miserably in his quest for success. Jon’s failure as a musician is key to the idea that lies at the centre of the narrative. It is not about fame, or glory, or writing the “most likeable song ever”. It is about honesty. It’s about remaining true to your art, to others around you and, most importantly, to the artist within yourself.

frank inset 2

In our fame obsessed culture, popularity has begun to outweigh talent in terms of importance. When X-Factor reaches season 257, will we finally realise that honesty used to be a prerequisite for an artist? How many series of The Voice do we need to reach end of days? The wider cultural issue is perfectly dramatised in Frank’s climactic penultimate act. The rest of The Soronprfbs having quit, Jon and Frank are forced to perform alone in front of a fervent crowd. As Jon begins the opening phrases of a song he penned, Frank breaks down clutching his papier mache head, crying out, “The music’s shit.”

Frank’s a film that excels within its own limitations and delivers a story we don’t expect. It resonates more deeply as a result

This is where Frank differs from other films this year. It may have only led me to eat a modest amount of popcorn. Sure, I didn’t pass out from laughing so hard, or fall to the floor having traversed the edge of my seat. But Frank does have a serious amount of heart. True meaning. It’s a film that excels within its own limitations and delivers a story we don’t expect. It resonates more deeply as a result. It’ll make you laugh. It might even make you shed some liquid from your eye holes. And at the credits, it’ll definitely make you turn to your partner and say “Huh”, which, depending on the inflection, is probably a good thing.

 

All images: Magnolia Pictures

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