Los Angeles Film Festival
Early on in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Frank,” Domhnall Gleeson’s character Jon poses a question that might as well be on behalf of the audience: what’s the deal with the paper-mache head that Michael Fassbender’s Frank won’t take off? Scoot McNairy’s Don, who has been working in a band with Frank for many years, tries to explain but ultimately admits, “You’re just going to have to go with this.”
The same mantra could apply to the rest of the film, where Abrahamson and screenwriter Jon Ronson string us along for a bizarre ride that offers very little explanation for itself. It sometimes teeters on the verge of being a Dadaist piece, but it mostly just fizzles with forced quirkiness that never connects. The scattershot tone of the piece makes it a real head-scratcher, too.
“Frank” is not without its amusing moments, nor is it an entirely meandering film. At times, it feels like an ultra indie-fied version of “Almost Famous” as Jon attempts to be taken seriously by Frank’s bonkers band. He takes over for a keyboardist who attempts to drown himself, presumptively because he is so frustrated with the unnecessarily rigorous creative process Frank demands. I’ll stop short of saying I wished I could be in his position, being carted off in an ambulance rather than being forced to endure the whims of the giant head, but it’s overall pretty brutal.
I think many of the issues I had with “Frank” arose from the relatively minor progression of the plot. It’s not a film carried by the characters; they all feel as if they’ve escaped from some “Saturday Night Live” skit mocking the esoteric kinds of hipster bands that play at Coachella. (Not kidding, one song in the film sung by Maggie Gyllenhaal begins, “I want to marry a lighthouse keeper.”)
The performances aren’t particularly strong either, not even from Fassbender. We don’t get to see him emote underneath the mask, which just made me realize how crucial his face is to conveying the inner turmoil of characters. His nondescript body movements don’t communicate well in “Frank” either, and I found my thoughts drifting to ponder whether it was in fact Fassbender at all.
I don’t want to spoil the film, but there is brief confirmation that the Oscar-nominated actor did film a scene for the film. Though a part of me does have to wonder if maybe the real joke of “Frank” is pulling a fast one on its audience by putting someone else under the big head. It would certainly be in line with the odd sense of humor that pervades the rest of the film. C /