That Lenny Abrahamson’s “Frank” is going to be a laugh out loud good time is evident within the first few minutes, as Domhnall Gleeson’s frustrated musician tries to write songs about anything and everything he sees around him. That it’s got more layers than just being odd and charming and fun takes a little bit longer – about the time we get to know Michael Fassbender’s titular Frank – but the two sides of the film work in tandem to make it an engrossing and meaningful moviegoing experience.
Gleeson is the perfect young actor to take us into the weird and wonderful world of Frank. Tweeting hyperbolically about his own stalled songwriting career and desperate to make it, Gleeson’s Jon thinks he’s found his big break when he’s conscripted into filling in for a suicidal keyboard player in the band Soronprfbs (don’t worry, no one, even in the movie, can pronounce it either). It’s at the disastrous gig that night that he meets Frank, who wears a giant plaster head – it turns out, 24/7, even in the privacy of his own room, in the shower and while eating and sleeping. Despite this, Frank’s musical genius is immediately evident and infectious, and Jon jumps at the chance to join the band as they retreat to a remote cabin to record their next album.
Jon’s experience with the band doesn’t go quite as smoothly as he had hoped and it’s not made any better by the hostility the other band members have towards him, particularly a combative Maggie Gyllenhaal’s theremin player Clara, clearly protective of Frank’s artistic integrity and suspicious of Jon’s motives. It turns out, maybe she does have reason to worry, as Jon becomes enamored with the idea of riding Frank’s genius to the commercial success that has eluded him in his own career thus far.
This island of misfit toys, like a cast of Wes Anderson characters set loose in the real world, provide plenty of opportunities for hijinks and hilarity, but a genuine camaraderie develops between Frank and Jon, much to Clara’s chagrin, aided greatly by the open and honest performances given by Gleeson and Fassbender. How the prolific actor is able to convey so much creativity and sensitivity with voice and body language alone is truly a feat for Fassbender, and as Jon succumbs to the darker nature of his own ambitions, Gleeson is able to shine as well beyond just being an ambassador into the eccentric world of his new band.
While “Frank” garners laughs aplenty, it slowly begins to show its true colors as a deep and layered rumination on many facets of humanity – creativity, ambition, artistic integrity and most sobering, the nature of mental illness. Is Frank just a lovable eccentric and genius who must be respected and allowed to do whatever he wishes? Or is coddling his weird whims actually hurting his artistic process? Can there ever be a balance between being liked by consumers and remaining true to your artistic process? These and more questions are raised by the film, though like any good exercise, are not easily answered. But you’ll have a hell of a good time thinking it over.