Frank comes from screenwriters Peter Straughan and Jon Ronson, who last collaborated on The Men Who Stare at Goats with Ewan McGregor and George Clooney, and like Goats, Frank is populated with a fantastic cast and possesses an interesting premise, but like that other movie, it’s a little too quirky and inaccessible to be successful. Ironically, that is also the major theme of Frank, about a talented band of questionably mentally ill misfits that’s too quirky and inaccessible to gain a following, but embraces that fact and pushes away influences that might make them more likable.
Frank centers on Jon (About Time’s Domhnall Gleeson), an aspiring songwriter and keyboardist stuck in a cubicle job he hates, who wants nothing more than to join a band and become a world-famous musician. He seemingly gets closer to that dream when, while hanging out near the beach, the keyboardist of an eccentric pop band attempts to take his own life. Jon jumps at the opportunity to replace him, and within a matter of days, Jon is holed up in a cabin attempting to record an album with the band, which includes an odd manager with mental problems (he likes to have sex with mannequins); Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a violently angry woman prone to fits of rage; and Frank (Michael Fassbender), a perfectionist lead singer who seems to have his sh*t kind of together, save for the fact that he never, ever, under any circumstances, takes off his mask. And yes: Even in the shower, or while he’s eating.
It’s a bizarre movie, mostly about how these oddball musicians bond together over their esoteric, unlistenable pop music, while Jon makes every attempt to make the band commercial. He starts a Twitter account, he posts videos to YouTube, and he reaches out beyond the cabin the band is secluded in for over a year recording. It’s when the band attempts to emerge from their isolation, however, that things begin to tear at the seams.
Frank is not without its merit. It’s brimming with neat ideas and it is populated with absurdly funny moments, and the performances are good (especially Fassbender, who emotes more from beneath a mask than 80 percent of Hollywood actors). Gleeson is also great as the Richard Curtis character trapped in an indie, abstract movie.
The film itself remains defiantly impenetrable, however, The movie, like the characters, keeps its audience at arms length, and while there’s some cleverness in seeing a movie thematically parallel its own characters, it’s not without its frustrations when it comes to payoff time. Frank, like the band at the center of the movie, simply refuses to give its audience what it wants.
Frank screened at the 2014 South by Southwest Festival.