November 17, 2014


Lenny Abrahamson, 2014
Struggling musician Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) is having difficulty finding inspiration in his songwriting. He suddenly finds himself sitting in on a gig with Soronprfbs, an avant garde band with a lead singer who wears a paper-mache mask on his head named Frank (Michael Fassbender).

Abrahamson's Frank character is based on Frank Sidebottom, a persona of late English comic Chris Sievey. Sievey would channel an eccentric energy through his Sidebottom character on English stages from the 1980's to modern day until Sievey's death from cancer in 2010. Frank certainly draws similarities to some of Andy Kaufman's quirky stage work. 

Fassbender's Frank character is mysterious and complicated. He comes off as somebody more than a band leader, actually someone that is more of a cult leader. He never takes the mask off. He sleeps with it on, he showers with it on. He eats and drinks with it on, as manager Don (Scoot Mcnairy) humorously describes the straw and liquid supplementation process to Jon. While the film is a respective nod to Frank Sidebottom, it ventures too far into the world of weirdness. Very much like the music that they perform, it never manages to materialize into anything memorable. The film comes off as Wes Anderson eating mushrooms and having a bad trip. A contemporary British invasion piece with a bad version of Animal Collective leading the way. While it certainly deserves praise for not traveling down the typical Hollywood story path. But that's disappointing, because the group should have become more than a novelty act emitting Hipster frequencies. The final moments of the film are too little, too late. It becomes nothing more than a meditation on the internet's viral video culture and collective hype. It should have been more of a study on mental illness rather than lightly gliding over it like they did. The scenes in the cabin during the album recording were exhausting attempts to make something stick, and then it became claustrophobic. Some of the most humorous moments of the film were rooted in dark humor (mishandling of human remains, surprise suicide), but they were overshadowed by things like Maggie Gyllenhaal's angry character with her persistent rage toward everyone other than Frank. Frank basks in it's own peculiarity, which ultimately might please a Pitchfork reviewer but isn't enough for the audience. 

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