Film Review: Frank

When Frank was released I spent many, many weeks listening to my favourite movie podcast rave on about Frank. Superlatives and hyperbole thrown from every quarter. This movie while not mainstream, not your typical run of the mill film, was something to see, something to search out and watch. It was good. And so it was with huge disappointment that every cinema chain it appeared, within about 50 miles of me, didn’t agree and didn’t both screening it.

So ingrained into me had a desire to see Frank become that I have never managed to forget it, I’ve been patiently waiting for it to appear either on DVD, or TV, and so it was with great delight that Curzon dropped their latest cinema and film guide through my letter box proudly promoting the fact Frank was about to be released onto their On-Demand service. Brilliant. At last.

Michael Fassbender - Frank

And last night, with Frank finally in my life I sat down to welcome a man in a papier-mâché head into my life. The film draws inspiration for its main character from Frank Sidebottom, but make no mistake this is not in any way, shape or form a documentary or portrayal of Sidebottom; it is purely a case of borrowing the main characters: name, look and profession and then filling in the cracks to create an new entity of a tale.

That tale though, the story I have waiting so long to discover, sadly has left me totally cold and unimpressed. I truly cannot believe that the reception the film received in May can echo the story I was treated to in September. I just found so many things wrong or confused with Frank that it wasn’t true. Starting at the beginning we have Domhnall Gleeson, he’s got an decent and growing film CV: True Grit, Never Let Me Go, the final Harry Potter film(s), Dredd, Anna Karenina and a starring role in About Time, which for me remembering back was a role that suited his looks character and demeanour perfectly. But in Frank he just feels wrong, he just feels totally out of place. He’s a geek thrown into a kaleidoscopic dance of chaos and madness and it just feels frictional throughout. 

Domhnall Gleeson - Frank

It doesn’t help as well that the world into which he falls with impossible serendipity is virtually unrecognisable and incoherent. Throughout the film, I found myself completely torn as to what the date was and when this film was supposed to be taking place. Everything feels old, everything feels analogue and I could and would have easily accepted that this film was set in the late 1980s. But suddenly as you expect to see them overtake a beige Volvo 240 GL, Gleeson will start tapping away at the keys on his shiny MacBook uploading video clips to YouTube or tweeting the bands ever stranger going-ons. It’s not the social media onslaught, the blatant product placed advertising that Chef took such great delight in serving up, but it feels totally out of era with the film, even though it’s the critical plot narrative.

Then we have the largest and most destructive part of this film for me. It’s portrayal and use of mental illness. It’s fairly obvious that in a film about an eccentric band of musical misfits, whose lead singer lives under a fake head and in the opening scenes we are treated to a man trying to drown himself in the sea, that there would be some discussion as to inner workings of the human brain, but the way it is handled throughout the film, honestly, wound me up and makes me want to shout very rude things at the people behind this film.

Michael Fassbender 02 - Frank

I suffer from a mental illness, I have a growing interest in mental health as a result. It’s a subject that is very important to me and very close to me. But this film treats something so fragile with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It almost uses it as a comedic tool and that, for me as least isn’t on. It feels during large parts of the film that the people who brought this tale to life have absolutely no experience of knowledge of the pain, suffering and destruction that mental health, and mental illness cause on those caught in it’s horrific web. The plot to Frank created an image in my head of the production team sitting around a desk when ones asks the question “but why does he wear a paper- mâché head?” before another pipes up in a silly adolescence voice “because he’s a spacko of course” and they all burst into laughter. And while, I’m sure that’s not true, the fact the tone of the film created that image is enough to drive me a long, long way from it.

The tone of mental health in the film aside, there are however, a couple of connected good points about the film. While nearly all the songs and music in the movie are shockingly bad, from time to time, there will be the fleeting melody, a few bars of something not half bad. Which is then complimented and extenuated by the randomness brought to life by the inclusion of a Theremin, an instrument designed to be so bizarre and complicated in sound and yet is softened into almost simplistic perfection when you see just how well Maggie Gyllenhaal really can play it.

Maggie Gyllenhaal - Frank

And Gyllenhaal, apart from just making the Theremin look like a precision instrument in the same way any true professional makes their chosen subject look pathetically simply when viewed in skilled hands, also steals the show performance wise. She brings he character to life and however much I disagree with the way they’ve depicted mental illness, she handles their brief perfectly.

I’ve been waiting to see Frank for a long time, but I didn’t expect to get the film I did. I didn’t expect to be left angry and upset in the way I am. The story, the madness of the music isn’t too bad, but the inclusion and manhandling of mental illness has left me totally hating it. See if it you want, just don’t expect me to give it praise if we talk about it afterwards. Sorry Frank.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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