BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
DECEMBER 23, 2014
The mythos of the Midas Touch tells the story of a king granted the power of turning everything he touches into gold. That may sound like an excellent idea, but once you change a few of your friends and family members into gold, you start to realize its not such a great gift. Sometimes I wonder whether the power exists in some people (myself included) to turn everything they touch into shit. Now I don’t mean literal shit, because that’s disgusting. What I mean is, every time that person enters a situation, whether it be a relationship or occupation, everything seems to fall apart. It’s a big reason I could not see myself in a high-stress job like a surgeon or a pilot because I never quite feel like I could excel at the highest levels of that profession without completely messing something up. At the heart of the festival film, “Frank” is the same idea.
When we meet Domhnall Gleeson’s quirky main character, Jon, he is attempting to write a new song by observing the world around him. The problem is that none of his ditties are particularly good (“Lady in the red coat, what are you doing with that bag?”), although most of them are quite hilarious. Everything changes when he happens across a raving man trying to drown himself in the ocean. The man’s bandmates watch from the shore, expressing their need for a new keyboard player. They find out Jon plays the keyboard, and that sparks an invitation for him to play Soronpfrbs’ next show. That night, Jon witnesses the insane mess that is the band. There’s Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the hateful theremin player, Don (Scoot McNairy), the mannequin loving manager/producer, and of course, the paper-mâché head wearing lead singer, Frank, played masterfully by Michael Fassbender.
Who could have guessed that one of the best performances of the year would come from Fassbender hidden behind a fake head for an entire film? Jon eventually abandons his humdrum life to record an album with the band at a retreat in the woods. He becomes transfixed with the enigmatic Frank, who is so creative and musically talented that he can spontaneously write a touching song about a tuft of carpet without a second thought. In contrast, Jon cannot even write a song with actual words, leading him to tweet and YouTube about his adventures. Through this, he learns of his bandmate’s previous mental hospital habilitations, squawking like birds during their practice, and never actually recording for their album. By the time they do record, Jon accepts an invitation for the band to play in Austin, Texas at the South By Southwest Music Festival, to which the only band member excited is Frank, who has secretly been wanting the band to be popular. What follows is the complete unraveling of the group, all with Jon at the heart chaos.
Spanning genres, from wacky comedy to touching drama, and jam-packed with emotion, “Frank” is everything you could want from a dark comedy. Being actually on the life of co-writer Jon Ronson, with the character of Frank inspired by the real-life Frank Sidebottom (the alter-ego of the deceased English musician and comedian Chris Sievey), gives it a note of authenticity. Without that, the film would have felt entirely fabricated by its sheer ridiculousness. Perfectly cast, the film has a majestic quality that sucks the audience in and surprises with every new character trait presented, as the self-assured persona of Frank eventually dwindles into a cowering man wearing a broken, make-up smeared fake head that he refuses to take off. So much is required of Michael Fassbender, who expresses more in his body movements and vocal performance than most actors can emote by actually using their face. Domhnall Gleeson also impresses, bringing new meaning to the term anti-hero, as his dreams and aspirations get in the way of his friendship and the well-being of those around him. By the conclusion of the film, you wonder where the band could have gone without Jon’s stirring of the pot. Rounded out by a great soundtrack and impressive direction, “Frank” sneaks in as one of the best independent films of the year and an instant dark comedy classic.
August 15, 2014
by Jon Ronson
(for language and some sexual content)