Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Starring Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy
In UK cinemas May 9th, 2014

by Joanna Orland

If you’re expecting a Frank Sidebottom biopic, you are watching the wrong film.  Even though it is written by Jon Ronson, a writer who was a member of Sidebottom’s band, Frank is so loosely based on the character that it should be considered as merely an homage.  Outside of the mask, name and eccentricity, you’ll be grasping to find an outright narrative connection.

The film itself is as eccentric as its title character Frank, a former mental patient who finds musical inspiration in everything, and also never removes his mask.  Never.  Not even in the shower.  Acclaimed actor and bonafied movie star Michael Fassbender is the man behind the mask in his best performance to date.  He is hilarious, endearing, empathetic and charming as Frank, without even a facial expression to aid his performance – except for the ones he describes.  Perhaps the mask is the secret to this excellent performance.  The lack of facial expression allows the audience to project their own emotions onto Fassbender’s Frank, reading what they want to read, much as main character Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) does in this film.

This film is about mental illness, overtly so and subtley so.  Frank’s insanity makes him the sanest person in the vicinity.  We’re led to believe that the seemingly sane boy next door Jon is the only one not suffering from mental illness in Frank’s band.  After all, he had a happy childhood and isn’t tormented – he feels this has made him less of an artist and is envious of Frank’s suffering and the music it allows him to produce.  Jon’s sanity drives him insane, feeding off of social media and need for acceptance, ironically pushing his band members further away while doing so.

Jon is envious of Frank’s ability to sing about anything in the world and it inspires Jon to become a better musician… if only he could find some lyrics and melody of his own.  Jon’s desperate to be somebody through music and dedicates himself to Frank’s band as they spend months going to extremes to record their new album.  They are going to such extremes, that a safe word is needed in the form of “chinchilla” which of course has become #chinchilla in the world of social media and meta marketing.

On one level, Frank is a social commentary on how we view mental illness and how our self-worth has become so dependent on social media.  These deeper layers are buried beneath a charming and often hilarious oddball film which will of course be labelled as “quirky” or “indie” in the mainstream.  The opening sequence alone was one of the funniest and most original pieces of cinema I have seen in a long while.  It’s refreshing, meaningful, powerful and enjoyable.  What more do you need?  Well, besides a copy of the soundtrack which I would imagine to be entitled Michael Fassbender Sings About Threads & Things.

Frank premiered at Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January 2014.  Its UK premiere was fittingly at Sundance London 2014, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.  Please enjoy the photo gallery from the screening and Q&A.


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