“Frank” is hugely disappointing. In fact, except for the acting ofDomhnall Gleeson, who is NOT Frank, the film is a complete waste of one’s time. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson with screenplay by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, “Frank” is inspired by the story of Chris Sievey, a real person who created the persona, Frank Sidebottom, a papier-mâché head-wearing musician with the post-punk band, “The Freshies.” This does sound like a very interesting premise for a film, but unfortunately “Frank” squanders the opportunity to tell an engaging story and Gleeson aside, doesn’t get the most from what should have been a great cast.
Rather than being told from the perspective of Frank (Michael Fassbender), the film is told through the eyes of Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), a version of screenwriter Ronson, who was a member of Chris Sievey’s band. Jon is an aspiring musician who works in an office during the day. Through a quirk of fate, Jon scores a last minute gig as a keyboardist for the band,”Soronprfbs,” fronted by papier-mâché head-wearing Frank. Frank is considered a genius by the other band members who practically worship him. Jon’s last minute substitution turns into a full-time position and he’s soon off with fellow band members to a remote portion of Ireland to work on an album. Outside of Don (Scoot McNairy), the band’s manager, and Frank himself, the band is fairly hostile to Jon, especially Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Jon is very active in social media and is constantly blogging, tweeting and posting videos of some of the band’s sessions.”Soronprfbs” starts to get a following and the group is invited to participate in the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX. It’s there that the film takes a twist which propels the film to its conclusion.
In reality, “Frank” is really Jon Burroughs’ story as we watch him grow and mature right before our eyes. Domhnall Gleeson does a terrific job in serving as the film’s guide. It’s through Jon that we see as much of Frank’s humanity as he allows anyone to see. Gleeson has the most fully realized performance, showing a range of emotions as the sometimes frustrated, but always learning musician. Scoot McNairy does good work as the band’s seemingly chill manager, albeit one with a host of personal problems. Unfortunately Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s one-note performance underwhelms and truth be told, she’s not a good singer, which becomes painfully apparent later in the film. Finally, there is Michael Fassbender. When you can’t see an actor’s eyes, the actor is already at a disadvantage. Therefore the voice becomes very important. Michael Fassbender’s Frank is an American and while his accent is fine, whatever acting there is, just isn’t very good. In fact, he’s shockingly mediocre. It might as well be Mickey Mouse inside the mask for all the difference it makes…and who knows, it might even make the movie better.
The script falls short on many levels. Why is Frank the way he is? We get some answers, but not enough of them. Why the band’s hostility to Jon? Why did the band think Frank was so special? A fully-rounded story would have elevated the film considerably.
In “Frank” we do see a potential star-making performance in Domhnall Gleeson, but not much else.
If you want to skip the movie and learn about the real Frank Sidebottom there are several options. One is a documentary, “Being Frank,” by David Arnold and Steve Sullivan and the other is a biography by Mick Middles, “Frank Sidebottom: Out of His Head.” Both will be available later this year. “Frank: The True Story That Inspired the Movie,” by Jon Ronson, is currently out in eBook format.