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FRANK (review)

Written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Fassbender

Jon Burroughs: I wondered what was inside the head inside the head.

In 2012, director Lenny Abrahamson’s film, WHAT RICHARD DID, reminded me why I loved film. I saw it twice in theatres; it was that good. It received a very limited run, which is a shame, as more people were not able to experience the powerful storytelling and incredible acting from the young cast. Abrahamson’s new film, FRANK, is now making its way to theatres, and while it doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop that his previous film did, it nonetheless creates a poignant portrait of mental illness and love told through a series of bizarre and interesting characters.

Jon (Domhnall Glesson) is a struggling musician living in suburbia with his parents, and dreams of making it somehow as a serious artist. The film opens with Jon staring at the sea, creating melodies and lyrics in his head. Its a side of the song writing process that most of us have never seen but are finally given the chance to know here. After Jon witnesses a man (who happens to be a keyboardist for a band playing that night in his own town), trying to drown himself, it seems the fates have smiled upon him somewhat. He is then offered the opportunity to play as a replacement keyboardist in an experimental music project.


When Jon arrives on stage, he is greeted by a motley crew of musicians, including theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), drummer Nana (Clara Azar), guitarist Baraque (Francois Civil), synth player Don (Scoot McNairy) and the ever mysterious masked leader of the band, Frank (Michael Fassbender). Much to the protest of the members, Jon eventually moves in with the band to a remote cabin in Ireland where they plan to write their first album. It never really becomes clear as to what the various relationships within the band are, so at times I found myself wanting more of an explanation as to how everyone came to be here. FRANK for the most part though, focuses on Jon, who has been secretly filming, tweeting and posting clips of the band and their progress to the internet and amassing followers in his pursuit of fame.  After months pass in the cabin and an eventual death of a band member occurs, Jon eventually convinces the group they should play their SXSE invitation and actually do something with their music.

This is when FRANK really begins to unravel its characters, allowing for us to get a glimpse into the heads of this eclectic group, even if it is just a peek. Gyllenhaal plays an amazingly stoic and violent artist whose resentment towards Jon never lets up, and she plays this incredibly well. I can’t remember the last time I saw her in a film and appreciated her performance, but in FRANK I was not only genuinely surprised by her, but by the end of it, I found that it was Gyllenhaal who had had the most emotional impact on me. Fassbender, while mostly seen with a papier mache mask on and rarely heard speaking, also gives an impressively emotional performance that doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast, but rather balances out the entire ensemble wonderfully.


Gonzo journalist, Jon Ronson (THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS), wrote the screenplay based on his experiences in the Frank Sidebottom band, whose lead singer, Chris Sievey, wore a large papeir mache head while on stage. (Sievey later become known for his stand-up comedy routine as well; he passed away in 2010 from cancer.) The story for the film was born from his own memoirs, but became a fictionalized account of a band whose newest member sets off an imbalance in the group with his ideas of fame. FRANK, without a doubt, is weird from beginning to end, but there is a certain charm within that weirdness that is both appealing and intriguing. You won’t be leaving the theatre singing any of the tunes from the movie (as they are mostly experimental noise rock) but the final song is so sad and wrought with enough emotional desperation, that it will bring tears to your eyes as the last shot fades from the screen.

3.5 sheep

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How many sheep would you give Frank?


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