Sunday, March 16, 2014

SXSW Review: 'Frank,' Starring Michael Fassbender Wearing a Giant Fake Head, Totally Rocks

MARCH 11, 2014 12:53 PM

Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in 'Frank'

In Lenny Abrahamson’s lovely film ‘Frank,’ Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a would-be musician who works an office job by day. It’s possible he doesn’t have a lot of talent.

He struggles with trite lyrics in his head and with equally trite tunes on his keyboard. One day he happens to be on the beach at the right moment (“right” being relative, mind you) when the keyboardist for an eccentric pop band is attempting to drown himself. Thus Jon is invited to become the new keyboardist. He heads up to a bucolic Irish cottage to help record a new album with the band, which includes Don (Scoot McNairy), Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the mysterious if affable Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a gigantic, smiley helmet-mask over his face and apparently never takes it off.

What seems like the opportunity of a lifetime turns out to be much different than that, as Jon discovers that one or more members in the band may have legitimate problems. This is where Abrahamson’s film pushes beyond the typical band-movie tropes and becomes a moving portrait of artistic passion on the verge of madness and complete dysfunctionality. It’s also very funny, sometimes in a light-hearted way, and often in a darker way.

As Jon slowly realizes his bandmates are bonkers, he’s also busily at work attempting to transition them from obscurity to internet fame. He tweets about their progress on the album (his Twitter followers slowing going up), he posts videos on YouTube, and eventually nabs an invite for them to play at -- dun da DUN -- the South by Southwest Festival.

What I found fascinating is the connection Abrahamson draws between our internet age of audience engagement and the means by which bands, films, whatever attempt to draw attention and a fanbase. We live in a highly distracted culture that often necessitates gimmicks and stunts to attract followers, page hits, video views, what have you. Frank’s gigantic helmet would indeed seem like a stunt, as do a number of other things that play out in the film. But is it? Or is it the elephant in the room suggesting something much more concerning going on?


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