Frank has a big head. Not in an egotistical way, but in an actual big head way. Well, not an actual head, but a giant papier-mâché head that he wears over his real head (which he refuses to let anyone see). Sounds weird, right? Well it is, but strangely enough, it is also kind of endearing.
As one of the film’s characters explains early on, “Frank, even with all his issues, is without a doubt, 100% the sanest cat I’ve ever met.” He continues, “Look, you’re just gonna have to have to go with this.” Of course, this advice comes from a guy with a serious fetish for mannequins, but that’s just the kind of film Frank is, and as an audience, we are just gonna have to go with it.
Frank is an oddball black comedy about an eccentric pop band, led by the masked, enigmatic titular character, who all have more than their fair share of hang-ups preventing them from gaining any tangible success. When Jon, a fledgling musician, stumbles his way into the band, he soon discovers he has bitten off way more than he can chew. When the band lands a surprise gig at SXSW, it could mean their big break or inevitable break-up.
The film serves as both an insider and outsider perspective of artistic expression and experience. Through Jon’s point-of-view, we meet and are similarly confused/intrigued by Frank – a gifted, quasi-guru guide – and his fellow musicians. They are eclectic and eccentric, clearly, but they are also immensely talented. So why are they not famous – or at least known to someone?
On the other hand, Jon is a “normal” person, more concerned with girls and tweeting (#FindFrank), as he struggles with his songwriting. He feels that he has not experienced anything worthy enough to inspire his art. So, in hopes of finding that inspiration, he latches on to Frank and the band, The Soronprfbs. And with a mixture of secrecy and later much resistance, Jon does his best to push Frank and the band into the spotlight.
Like the band, the film itself is a bit off-kilter. It has a fairly typical structure, but like their music, it amps up the eccentricities. And when they are in their element, playing their delightfully catchy music, not only does the band shine, but so does the film (it’s tough to choose between the poppy, abbreviated “Frank’s Most Likeable Song…Ever” or the soulful end credits song “I Love You All”). And when the band finally settles in to record their album, it produces, as expected, great music (again), but also a fantastic, well-edited cinematic sequence.
Though you certainly will not recognize him, Frank stars the normally brooding Irish actor, Michael Fassbender. And as with all his roles, he gives a fantastic performance as Frank, but this one is clearly unlike all the others. In fact, he is incredibly likable – not a trait always associated with his characters. Even with a giant mask on, Fassbender is able to infuse a stunning amount joy and pathos into a character whose face you cannot see and hollow voice you can barely hear.
The film also stars Domhnall Gleeson, a dorky, charming rising British star, as Jon; Maggie Gyllenhaal as an ill-tempered band member; and Scoot McNairy as the band’s manager/producer.
Overall, Frank is a little weird, but it does not try too hard to be. And it has got a lot of heart, but certainly not in a cheesy or unearned way. It might not be the sanest movie you have ever seen, but you’re just gonna have to go with this – and I promise you, good things will come.
* * * * ½ out of 5 stars
Frank is now playing in select theaters nationwide
This review originally appeared on Chris's official review page. Check it out and other reviews on Examiner.com: http://www.examiner.com/indie-movie-in-new-orleans/chris-henson