Thursday, August 28, 2014

Michael Fassbender: Frank Exposes the Gulf Between the Brilliant and the Rest of Us (movie review)

By Amy Nicholson Thursday, Aug 28 2014

<i>Frank</i> Exposes the Gulf Between the Brilliant and the Rest of Us

Frank never takes off the head. But how does he eat, brush his teeth, or shave, Jon asks? Replies Soronprfbs' manager (Scoot McNairy): "You're just going to have to go with this." So we do. Director Lenny Abrahamson frames the film as a millennial myth, sealing the band away in a remote cabin in Ireland to record its first album, which sounds like whale noises, acid freak-outs, and the B-52s. (Composer Stephen Rennicks may be a genius himself.) Isolated among the trees, Frank walks tall — all Fassbender has to act with is his spine — and unnerves Jon with his ability to compose a song as easily as breathing. An off-the-cuff ode to a strand of fabric becomes a ditty worthy of prime Paul McCartney. He's no gimmick — he just looks like one — and like Jon, we're torn between wanting to share his gifts with the world and the looming fear that the world has become so cynical that it will write him off as a joke.

Wrested from the forest and steered at Jon's request to the streets of Austin's South by Southwest festival, Frank looks smaller and stupider — no better than the twee ­ukulele starlets and a whole lot less accessible. The real-world detour is grating, as are Jon's frequent tweets about the band, but that they cheapen the alienness of the film's first half is kind of the point. As much as we might wish they weren't, our brains are aligned with the small-minded and corruptible Jon: Our culture has so merged music and commerce that we can't be in the thrall of splendor without wondering how to market it. Even Frank himself falls sway to fame, muttering about YouTube, which he calls "secret camera," as if it's a mystifying cargo cult. Only Gyllenhaal's angry art-rock girl is aware of the fragility of his mental health: Frank doesn't wear the head because he can; he wears the head because he must.

Look closely at Frank's mask and you'll spot two plaster bandages by his nose, a hint of a life that's taken some lumps. Study Fassbender's limbs and see one of the best physical performances of the decade. His face never changes, but he has visible soul. In small movements — the twitch of a hand, a wobble under a door frame, a beer, and straw held uselessly by his painted mouth — Fassbender gives us glimpses of what Frank's isolating genius has cost him. Would we, too, sacrifice normal pleasures for a chance at eternal greatness? Or would we rather suffer alongside Jon, cursed with the heart-melting torture of knowing that the gods of music will never love us in return?


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