There aren’t many films out there that successfully probe suburban aspiration, artistic integrity, pretension, modern celebrity and the pressures of working together. Fewer still will do so with wry humour, intelligence and a ‘through the looking glass’ approach to reality. And none, until now, have done so by using the large fake head of the late Frank Sidebottom as a launchpad.
Penned by Jon Ronson, Frank, is ‘inspired by’ the life of Frank Sidebottom. Or at least, the life and ‘outsider spirit’ (as the dedication has it) of Chris Sievey who was Frank and who died a few years before this film was made. Ronson was keyboardist for a time in Frank Sidebottom’s group and he has used his own writing on that subject as the basis for the story of ‘Jon’, a keyboardist yearning for popular acclaim but seemingly lacking the talent to write anything more complicated than riffs on It Must Be Love, who by freak circumstance becomes keyboardist in ‘Frank”s band and who then winds up being an integral part of the creation of a record in darkest, remotest Ireland.
The cast around Jon and Frank includes Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara – a theramin player with a mean attitude and harsh haircut – and Scoot McNairy’s Don whose love for mannequins and occasional insanity seem remarkably un-out-of-place. There are others too, and it is a pleasure to spend time in their company, safe in the knowledge that they can’t actually hurt you.
Frank‘s performances, notably Michael Fassbender as Frank and Domhnall Gleeson as Jon, are very good but it truly is the writing that keeps you going. The dialogue crackles nicely and there are many, many wonderful, subtle observations about the human condition (especially in the age of social media) that reflect the best of Ronson’s extensive work in the field.
So, there is a lot to enjoy packed into 95 tight minutes. Just don’t expect to be able to describe it adequately to the next person you meet: There’s this guy in a head, and he’s in a band and … well, just see it. You can thank me later.