As I am sure a lot of you know, I have a very special place in my heart for independent cinema, and it makes me giddy to discover some new, unique piece of independent cinema, mainly because they don’t have the promotion of bigger films, and can spring up on you out of nowhere. Frank is one of those movies – a small, quirky little indie with a strange story and a very low-key production made it one of the most delightful surprises I’ve ever had from a little film like it.
The story follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a songwriter and musician who is struggling to come up with anything…good. While walking on a beach, he encounters a man trying to drown himself, and very soon finds himself as the suicidal man’s replacement in an experimental pop band, whose frontman is Frank, a seemingly normal experimental musician…who wears a giant papier-mâché head all day, everyday. Jon is launched into a strange, but inspiring, world of music and finding yourself in it, and reaching a place where your talents didn’t know they could go.
Michael Fassbender has become one of cinema’s most sought-after leading men, mainly because he has a strange ability to do whatever the role entails. For the entire length of Frank, Fassbender wears the oversized head for almost the entire duration of the film, and somehow he manages to create a character we feel a true emotional connection to, without us seeing his expressions or emotions expressed through his face, but instead through Fassbender’s voice and body language, and we are given a very unconventional leading man in Fassbender’s Frank, who is initially awkward and uncomfortable to watch, but by the end of the film, when we finally see who he is, we have grown to love Frank. It feels like we are on the journey with Jon, thrust into this surreal and intimidating world that is both delightfully confusing and dreadfully fun.
Other than Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson shows that he has inherited a lot of his father’s unique acting talent, and here, playing Jon, through whom we see the story, Gleeson may not have a showy, emotional role in the story, but instead acts as the eyes through which the audience sees the story – Jon is not an extraordinarily talented character, nor is he anything special. Much like many of us, he longs for fame and acclaim and recognition, but has trouble finding inspiration. Playing the everyman amongst the oddballs in this film is a difficult task – when your fellow castmembers are a bunch of crazy, angry musicians and a man in a giant papier-mâché head, it is easy to go overboard as well. Gleeson restrains himself, and while he does have some moments of inspired insanity, he keeps well within the boundaries of ensuring that he never drifts far from the character’s normality, and therefore doesn’t alienate the audience – it is only through Jon’s experiences with Frank that we go on the strange journey with him and only through Jon do we get a perspective of who Frank is and how we can unlock the key to understanding him, and when we do, it is probably the most emotional part of any film this year.
Frank is a very small indie film, and with that comes a risk. Working on a small budget, and with a story that doesn’t exactly draw in the crowds, it was a huge risk to make, as are many unique independent films. Director Lenny Abrahamson does his best to make it compelling, and while it may not have had people lining up around the block to see it when it opened, those who took the leap of faith were subjected to a very odd, yet endearing, story about friendship, fame and the oddball characters who exist in real life, but are rarely in our own personal lives. It may not be a perfect film by any means – it can certainly be a little repetitive and a lot is left hanging, but all of that is forgiven because one cannot deny the surreal charm that the film has.
I really enjoyed Frank – it was a very funny film, and it stayed true to its indie roots. The ending was unpredictable, and it steers clear of all cliche (because a story like Frank’s would be ruined by overuse of tropes or cliches) – Michael Fassbender continues to bring increasingly interesting projects to his filmography, and the fact that he chose to basically go unrecognizable for an entire film – knowing that he himself could have been the one box office draw to the film, was truly admirable. It reminds me that Fassbender is such a talented actor and he is going to have a legendary career, and it also showed me that Domhnall Gleeson is a talent to watch out for, and in 2014, starring in three great films – Calvary with his father Brendan, big-budget underdog biopic Unbroken, and Frank, confirms to me that Gleeson is also a very underrated actor, and we should keep an eye on him, because he could surprise us and become a huge star at the drop of a hat.
Frank is very charming, and a quirky experience. Flawed, like most humble independent films, but still truly entertaining and definitely something special. It is probably the most underrated film of 2014, and hopefully in the coming years, more and more people discover films like Frank, and such unique and humble films can continue to be made, because it is films like this that give me hope that cinema is more capable of remakes, sequels and rip-offs. Frank is an amazingly unique film, and it is destined to become a cult hit.