Domhnall Gleeson is Jon, a young wannabe keyboardist who manages to get recruited into an outré band called The Soronprfbs. The group is led by an enigmatic personality named Frank who wears a giant cartoon papier-mâché head that he never takes off. The gang includes Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a supremely negative individual who plays the theremin (natch), Nana their drummer (Carla Azar of experimental LA act Autolux), petulant lead guitarist Baraque (French actor François Civil) and their manager Don (Scoot McNairy). Despite having little to no talent whatsoever, Jon desperately craves mainstream success. Meanwhile the rest of the band appears to have less focused aspirations. His dream of appearing at Austin’s famed South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is driven by his social media campaign via Twitter and YouTube.
The production captures the collaborative efforts of an unknown indie band with real authenticity. There’s a reason for this. The inspirations for Frank are actually more interesting than the film itself. The screenplay was written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, and was based on Ronson’s experiences playing in the new wave act Oh Blimey Big Band during the late 1980s. Their leader, Chris Sievey was an English musician and comedian. He succumbed to cancer in 2010. Sievey’s comic persona Frank Sidebottom included wearing a large spherical shaped head made of papier mâché and dressing in a retro styled suit from the 1950s. Beneath that veneer, the writers have fashioned a bizarre fictional group that also owes an obvious debt to the talents of avant-garde individuals like Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa and Daniel Johnston.
Frank is a black comedy with a dark undercurrent. How dark? Well someone who has committed suicide by hanging himself from tree is presented as a visual joke. In another instance a man is suddenly hit by a car in a sonic surprise that virtually slaps the audience with a punctuated jolt. Frank is definitely an odd little film with a sensibility that will charm some and irk others. There are some amusing moments. Frank’s attempt at his most likable pop song is something called “Coca Cola, Lipstick, Ringo.” In the words of screenwriter Jon Ronson, it would be the result “if someone with manic depression tried to write a Katy Perry song.” The final ditty “I Love You All” is strangely affecting as well. Unfortunately those occurrences are few and far between. Most of the picture isn’t that funny or even particularly memorable. Frank isn’t a bad movie. There are some touching episodes amidst the bleak humor, but I’ll liken its appeal to food. Frank is a heaping plate of fava beans. There’s nothing wrong with fava beans. I just wouldn’t call myself a fan. I’ll take a plate of broccoli instead.