Review: Frank

        Initially, it may seem like a cool-kid gimmick - Lenny Abrahamson's tale of an eccentric indie band fronted by Frank, who refuses to take off his papier-mache head. This low-key, anarchic comedy draws from screenwriter Jon Ronson's experience riding the coat-tails of a band to eventual cataclysm. So follows another Jon, played by a mumbling but shrewd Domhnall Gleeson under a flop of ginger curls. A contemptibly poor musician, Jon manages to infiltrate the band - essentially a gang of unfriendly black-clad hipsters, headed by the sweet-natured, enigmatic Frank. Maggie Gyllenhaal is memorably caustic as avant-garde senior band member Clara, who detests Jon with a passion. Upon being asked to make their music more 'likable' to a SXSW audience, she snarls, 'I'm not playing a fucking ukulele!'  

It's something of a turn-around from Abrahamson's last work, What Richard Did, a bleakly-appointed drama about an Irish teenager who accidentally commits a terrible crime. But that, too, was laced with shards of bitter black humour, and Frank's glorious weirdness uses it to full effect. With mannequin fetishists, suicide attempts, gloomy Irish mountains and instruments made of cheese graters, Frank and his band make their way to Texas for the SXSW Festival and their shot at fame. The off-kilter comic element is paired with Frank's growing vulnerability, and the cynical exploitation of his legitimate strangeness.

There is speculation on Frank's facial disfigurements and traumatic childhood, but myth-making often veils the truth. The papier-mache head seems to centralise all of Frank's musical power, and certainly his mystique. Without it, his exhibitionism - in fact, his ability to function - is scuppered. As one might gather with Michael Fassbender obscured beneath, the actor gives an endearing physicality to the role, shoulders drawn forward in painful shyness. Jon is convinced that a terrible past will improve his meagre talent, and learns the hard way that Frank's excruciating brilliance cannot be cultivated, captured, or controlled. Both bizarre and surprisingly moving, the anything-goes spirit of the film is sorely needed in more mainstream cinema.

Now showing at Broadway Cinema and Cineworld Nottingham


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