Review Roundup - Talking heads

FRANK (2014)
 
When talking about a film like this it can be difficult to nail down the exact components and pigeon hole it in a way that makes it simple enough to discuss. Even suggesting a genre proves to be a challenge, after all strangeness in itself is not enough to define a story. Of course it's billed as a wacky comedy with an odd collection of musicians trapped in isolation while they attempt to record an album, but under the surface this is a much darker and melancholy tale. The underlying character study is far more unwieldy, and like the eccentric characters taking centre stage there are many troubled layers beneath the mask.


Michael Fassbender dons the big head of Chris Sievey in a story which takes only a small inspiration from the television personality, opting instead to tell a story about the problems of musical inspiration and the nature of talent, or perhaps even genius. The performance, or lack of is both touching and alienating. The enigma of a man who refuses to show his face offers both intrigue and frustration as a core to the movie, as often he is not the focus. Despite the title, this story is really about Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a keyboard playing songwriter, and an outsider looking in at this established group. Whether they look different, speak different languages or simply have a better grasp of their place in the scheme of things, they are all detached in some way or another. The limits of his ability are immediately clear and while Frank and the group's manager seem welcoming it's obvious that the other members question his worth; and perhaps they are justified in doing so as his lack of creativity slowly gives way to ego. While the device of such a character plays on the idea that the band are outcasts, Jon is rarely likable and his dependance on social media is both a distraction to the story and a jarring visual element. I'd prefer to have Twitter as something that exists outside of the screen personally.

In spite of my issues this is mainly a story about music, and it's great in that regard - Frank is both a great personality and front man. The experimental rock sound has hints of Jim Morrison, with one scene during the recording sessions in particular suggesting the more bizarre sections of The End a little. Perhaps it's worth just hearing to get a better idea; personal tastes and where similarities can be drawn will differ from person to person. But as soundtracks go this is a recommendation. Ultimately a lot of this is very good but the idea of it being a comedy is never central, it's a misleading label. As the elements about suicide attempts, mental hospital patients and panic attacks come into play, these are the issues which become thematic as things progress. It's interesting to view these characters as unknowable, and it's a thought provoking idea that the nature of inspiration may be a mystery with or without disorders and neuroses - but at the same time I would have liked more time to explore that side of things. Like the mask this draws you in but always keeps things at a distance despite there being moments of real depth. There a many great scenes which develop a sense of emotional weight yet it can feel cold and unfocused at times, showing care with many issues while keeping them at arms length. Ultimately it may be worth a look just for those moments. If that simple description of weird is appealing, of course.

3/5