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SXSW 2014 Review: Frank
Adam Frazier   |  @   |  

Frank starring Michael Fassbender at SXSW
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, Scoot McNairy, Carla Azar, Francois Civil
Magnolia Pictures
Not Rated | 93 Minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2014 (SXSW)

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Garage), Frank stars Domhnall Gleeson as Jon, a young musician who joins “Soronprfbs,” an eccentric band led by Frank – a mysterious man in an oversized, expressionless plaster head.

Co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, and Scoot McNairy, Frank is a peculiar-but-poignant musical comedy that explores the absurdity of outsider art and the comedic nature of the experimental process.

Soronprfbs consists of burnt-out manager Don (McNairy), a passive-aggressive drummer Nana (Carla Azar), French bass player Baraque (Francois Civil), and the mysterious (and dangerous) Clara (Gyllenhaal), a quick-tempered theremin player who immediately hates Jon just for existing.

After joining the band, Jon moves to Ireland with Soronprfbs to record an album, where Jon begins posting rehearsal sessions on YouTube and using Twitter to discuss the band’s progress as they make their way to the States to play at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival.

It’s a surreal experience, watching a film at South by Southwest only to see the characters in the movie walk the same streets of downtown Austin, TX, while attending the very same festival you’re there for. I half-expected to walk outside of the Stateside Theatre and see Frank with his giant plaster head walking down North Congress.

Played by Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Frank is a mentally unsound man mistaken for a genius. While the film is fictional, it’s heavily inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the comic persona of Chris Sievey, as well as other musicians like Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart. Like the film’s Frank, Sievey’s Sidebottom wore a large spherical head, styled like an early Max Fleischer cartoon.

Fassbender’s Frank never takes off the head-helmet. He records in it – showers in it – eats and drinks with it on, and yet the film isn’t about revealing who’s under there, or why he wears it, but why it doesn’t really matter. The film’s real focus is Gleeson, who embodies a shy, socially awkward ginger dreaming of big-time success. Through Gleeson we’re able to experience the dynamic of oddball outsiders collaborating to make something we don’t fully understand; music with no rhythm or reason.

While Frank is a strange, downright whacky film at times, it is still incredibly accessible. When it’s all said and done, the film’s misfits are revealed to be real, multi-dimensional human beings – regardless of the masks they wear.


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