Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a wannabe musician currently going nowhere in his boring seaside home, has a chance encounter with the band the Soronprfbs with their enigmatic front man and main composer Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant papier mache head. Jon is recruited to be their new keyboard player and joins them in recording their new album.
Firstly, this film is not a biopic of the late Chris Sievey, better known as Frank Sidebottom, but it is influenced by him and his giant head; a nod to this and a dedication to Sievey can be found in the credits. Written by Jon Ronson, former keyboard player of Frank Sidebottom’s band, it takes Sievey’s eccentricity, spirit and giant head on a comedic trip with a niche unknown band.
Fassbender throws himself into the role of Frank, creating a mix of a very physical performance and a vocal performance akin to something from an animated movie. His Frank, is charming and fun and potentially a genius, bouncing along trying to perfect his musical vision and find fans while holding deep personal issues inside. Gleeson plays Jon well, at first displaying a suffocated sensibility before becoming open to a chance and possibility and then ultimately souring it all with ambition. Gyllenhaall is almost scary as the threatening and grumpy Clara.
Several of the characters have mental illness which the film deals with fairly and without hysteria, which can blight many other mental illness portrayals. Its characters are functioning human beings, who are not defined by their mental illness but is a part of them. Frank’s eccentricity is matched by an overwhelming positivity and encouragement. The film is a celebration of eccentricity and those on the outside of society, those who do things differently but are no less brilliant for it. The most ‘normal’ character turns out to be the films villain as he coerces Frank to his point of view and tries to change the band so that he can get his music heard and so he can finally try and realise his dreams of becoming a musician, riding on the talent and good will of his giant headed friend. The film is a love letter to the odd and the avant garde. It is about being who you are and doing what you want even if that may not be the norm. Frank would like to share his music with lots of people but can never really compromise his artistic vision in exchange for ‘likeability’, although his most likable song is a comedic highlight of the film.
This film works best in its first two thirds, wavering more in the last third when the band head out to play a big gig and things start to go awry rather than be comically odd. However, it still holds interest as Frank’s illness is given some room, and ends on an affecting note about like-minded people finding and bonding.
Frank is an amusing love letter to the weird and the different, telling you to be who you are and not pander to what other people might like. With some great performances and a gently moving ending you’ll probably come out with Frank’s most likeable song in your head. #Chinchilla