Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sundance Review: ‘Frank’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson & Maggie Gyllenhaal

JANUARY 18, 2014 11:06 AM

Are some diamonds in the rough so special they can only exist on the fringes? When a rare species enters the ecosystem of the mainstream, do its fragile, sensitive needs break down amongst the polluted elements around it? These are some of the ideas expressed in “Frank,” an off-the-wall and terrific paean to the misfits and freaks of the world, their dreams, visions and togetherness.

In a small, quaint English town, the naïve, ginger-haired dreamer Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) lives a placid, but utterly charmless life. A cubicle drone, he tweets out utterly banal thoughts (“Panini with cheese and ham #livingthedream”), but Jon’s waking life is but waiting moments in between the songs he’s constantly composing in his head. A wannabe musician, Jon has zero outlet for his little songs and quietly yearns for something more. Right on cue, as if the antenna of the world is finally listening, Jon’s universe is transformed when he accidentally meets a strange, dysfunctional psych-rock outsider band (think a Shaggs-y version of the Velvet Underground meets Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston), the unpronounceable and cult-like Soronprfbs, who have lost their keyboardist to madness (trying to drown himself on a frigid English beachfront no less). With the band in town for a gig, Jon offhandedly offers his keyboard skills (he can play F, C & A), and much to his surprise, the band’s unhinged and loony manager Doug (Scoot McNairy), gives the young lad an impromptu chance to fill in for the evening. It’s a bit of a disaster, but Jon is invited to join the band anyhow. And when the malfunctioning, ramshackle group retreats to a cabin in the woods in Ireland to record a new album, their adventure begins. Guileless and way out of his depth, the experience is initially transformative to Jon, but eventually begins to take on a much darker edge.

Always jamming with wild, feral abandon, Soronprfbs consists of: Frank (Michael Fassbender), the damaged, Syd Barrett-like musical genius of the group who suffers from an “above board” medical condition that maintains he must wear a papier-mâché visage over his head at all times; Clara (a scene-stealing Maggie Gyllenhaal), the belligerent and humorless synth/theremin/noisemaker; Baraque (Francoise Civil), the French-only speaking bassist/guitarist; and the aloof Nana (multi-instrumentalist Carla Azar of Autolux, collaborator with PJ Harvey, Jack White), the Moe Tucker-like thumping drummer.

while some will focus on the conceit of Michael Fassbender wearing a papier-mâché head for much of the film, and some of the odder elements of the movie, you'll likely be too caught up in the deeply inventive, playful and idiosyncratic film to give it much thought. And though some pundits may claim that “Frank” may just be too strange for the average moviegoer, those with at least a working sense of modern day music and the struggles of artists should easily relate and empathize. The bizarrely brilliant “Frank” demonstrates that quirkiness need not be a four-letter word in the language of movies. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but this terrific and sublime experience, and strikingly original film, is mandatory watching for the adventurous viewer.  [A]


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