At one point during the offbeat indie-ish film Frank, things began to feel so real that I suspected it was based on a true story. I later learned that it was. And still later, I learned that it actually wasn’t, although it was based on certain real events.
This is a credit to director Lenny Abrahamson, and to writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan (who collaborated on The Men Who Stare At Goats), who have taken a preposterous tale about a man spending all his time in a giant paper maché head fronting a difficult avant-garde band, and making it feel realistic.
Our story begins when Jon (Domhnall Gleeson, who was a Weasely in the Harry Potter flicks, but has been in a bunch of stuff, like Calvary, Anna Karenina, Dredd, True Grit) happens to be on the scene when the keyboardist for Soronprfbs (Frank’s band) goes nuts and runs off into the sea.
Jon ends up being the keyboardist.
This leads to Jon spending a year or so recording an album with Soronprfbs, ultimately supporting them with an inheritance. Meanwhile, he’s blogging and tweeting the experience, and gaining fans for his hard-to-pronounce band, while fighting off the white-hot hatred of Jon’s girlfriend, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal, looking all of her 37 years while returning to her roots as a weird bohemian artist chick type).
This movie, in so many ways, felt like an early ‘70s flick. It has an almost magical realism feel to it, except that nothing magical really happens, unless you count suicide and insanity as magical things. Frank has a guru quality, such that people are attracted to his talent and his words of wisdom, even as he demonstrates a certain detachment from reality.
I think that’s probably it: The wise man who is detached from reality and ultimately destroyed by it was a big ’70s theme, I think. (Can I think of any movies like that offhand? Apparently not. Tommy? Those Lindsay Anderson flicks?) Honestly, as a plot, I’ve always found it creepy and heavily influenced by drug culture. But that’s just my take.
Frank avoids this nonsense, mostly. He’s a talented guy, but fragile and weird. He’s nice to Jon in a way the others are not, and it is really an exercise for the viewer to decide whether or not this relationship is a good thing. Jon means well, but he’s more taken by Frank’s talent than he is aware of Frank’s shortcomings.
You could say that the movie has a tonal shift in the third act, but that’s not really true. It’s true that the first two acts are fairly light-hearted (with darkly comic overtones), while the final act is a lot less comic, but the events are rather incidental: The first two acts are funny for their fish-out-of-water character, for the (always tenuous) isolation of the characters from reality, but it’s not like you don’t see the train coming at you—hell, from the first scene.
I actually think that’s a big part of why this works: Jon wants to bring Frank and his amazing talent to a wide audience who will then appreciate him (and make Jon a rock star, not incidentally) without seeing that Frank’s very nature makes that nigh impossible. Even if we side with Jon, and less with the pissy bandmates, it’s not like we can avoid the obvious fact that a man is wearing an enormous paper mache head.
Just as the initial part of the movie doesn’t get zany for the sake of zaniness, the closing act doesn’t get dark for the sake of darkness. In fact, the movie just destroys a beloved trope of artists—the tortured genius.
Well, that gets it a few points right there from me. The Boy and I both greatly enjoyed. A brisk hour-and-a-half story with a good narrative and strong characters, which will be seen by very few people.
But, hey, it’s got about twice the box office of Life of Crime!