Daily | Sundance 2014 | Lenny Abrahamson’s FRANK



“After playing a rapist slaveowner, a tormented sex addict, and a defiantly starving IRA member, it’s a relief to see Michael Fassbender finally access his lighter side in the delightful new comedy Frank,” begins Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan. “As the title character, the frontman of a very unusual rock band, Fassbender gets to sing, shimmy, and show off some crack comic timing… There’s just one little asterisk we should mention—one thing that keeps this screen performance from genially counterbalancing those many times we’ve seen Fassbender’s furrowed, frustrated brow on-screen—and it’s kind of a biggie: Fassbender spends Frank’s running time wearing a giant papier-mâché head that he never takes off.”

Guy Lodge at In Contention: “‘You’re just going to have to go with this.’ So says zoned-out band manager Don (an unrecognizable Scoot McNairy) to eager-beaver new keyboardist Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) at the outset of Lenny Abrahamson’s brazenly strange, frequently brilliant new film Frank. He may as well be speaking to the audience: a black comedy that runs the gamut from gentle whimsy to balls-out absurdism, Frank certainly demands a lot of acceptance from its viewers—and not just for the cardinal aesthetic sin of encasing Michael Fassbender’s regal mug in a fiberglass fishbowl painted to resemble Dora the Explorer’s unsavory older brother. Some will certainly go with it; others will find it flying right over their regular-sized heads.”

For the Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr, Frank is “an eccentric much of a muchness that keeps threatening to devolve into mere quirk before veering off into rougher, more inspired weirdness…. Domhnall Gleeson—Brendan’s kid—is the naïf, a no-talent songwriter who falls in with a misfit rock group with an unpronounceable name, a hostile lady theremin player (Maggie Gyllenhaal, terrifying), and a charismatically disturbed lead singer who never takes his big fake plaster head off and thus suggests Joy Division’s Ian Curtis in a Mummenschanz touring production.” All in all, Frank is “a movie that’s a lot less cute and a lot more unsettling than it could have been.”

It’s “weird and wonderful,” finds Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “Frank’s story couldn’t have existed if not for Chris Sievey, an English punk-rocker-cum-comedian whom the public knew as Frank Sidebottom, encased in an oblong papier-mache head with unblinking Pac-Man eyes and painted-on hair. Jon Ronson witnessed Sievey’s bizarre performance-art phenomenon firsthand, joining Frank Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey Big Band as a substitute keyboard player in college, then reteaming with The Men Who Stare at Goats co-writer Peter Straughan to fictionalize Sievey’s story for the screen.”

Leon Forde interviews Abrahamson for Screen, where Tim Grierson argues that “Frank falters more than it soars… The film divides roughly into two parts. In the first section, Jon, Frank and the rest of The Soronprfbs… begin developing their sound, which includes camping out in the woods for 18 months to painstakingly work on their new album. After that, Frank finds the band journeying from Ireland to the South By Southwest music festival in Texas in the hopes of breaking big…. It’s here that the satire becomes sharper and the poignancy more acute—the raised stakes bring out compelling new dimensions in these characters.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy: “Abrahamson clearly means to beguile with this weird mix of moods and methods—goofy comedy here, sudden slashes of tragedy there, momentary eruptions of musical inspiration overshadowed by admitted mediocrity—but the mash-up of elements combine with a singularly unpleasant roster of characters to create a work of genuinely off-putting quirkiness…. The musical number played at the very end has a haunting quality that sends the film out on one of its better notes, but it doesn’t disguise the fool’s errand most of it has been.”

But for the Playlist‘s Rodrigo Perez, Frank is “an off-the-wall and terrific paean to the misfits and freaks of the world, their dreams, visions and togetherness…. If you’ve been in bands, toured the world or even spent five minutes in a basement with friends making music, Frank vividly captures the complex, often tense and straining push-and-pull dynamics of musical collaboration between four or more people.”



Updates, 1/19:Frank is a movie that the right people will take to heart; to the people it speaks to, it speaks volumes.” Criticwire‘s Sam Adams: “Frank‘s larkish high concept becomes surprisingly resonant, and eventually heartbreaking.”

“Though I’ve never seen anything like Frank, I’m not quite as gung-ho on it as some of my colleagues,” writes Noel Murray at the Dissolve. “But the film is frequently funny and unexpectedly sad, especially as it becomes clearer that Frank’s kind of crazy isn’t the Silver Linings Playbook kind, which can be danced away in the third act. More to the point, I was impressed with how unforgiving Frank is toward its protagonist.”

For the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “since Fassbender’s disturbed genius and the rest of the band never quite evolve into actual characters, the drama of the film’s back stretch never really connects. Still, there are plenty of laughs, and I’d take a flawed, self-conscious curiosity like Frank over the polished contrivance of a Laggies any day of the week. Sundance should, too.”

“Abrahamson lays bare the cult of personality through multiple Amadeus-worthy creative clashes, some of them howlingly funny,” writes Joshua Rothkopf for Time Out. “A lot of this is painfully insidery: Frank plays to the audience that would mock an oily superfan who makes a fawning scene in a diner, when, in fact, that guy is the ideal viewer. But what a rebound—you know the head’s coming off and Fassbender delivers moments of heartbreaking fragility that bring to mind the cult music documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.”

“Though more in love with its silliness than the insights buried inside them, Frank works to amusingly irreverent effect when combining the two,” finds Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn.

“Off-beat and punk-spirited, Sievey would no doubt approve of the tone and style of this movie,” figures Amber Wilkinson in the Telegraph.

Viewing (3’52”). Abrahamson, Gyllenhaal and McNairy talk to EW.

Updates, 1/31: “This film manages to make should-be tragic elements—not limited to the unexpected suicide of a key character, a rape, a stabbing, crippling depression and insanity—feel like the amusing and everyday backdrop for avant-garde musicians,” writes Alexandra Marvar at Cinespect. “The third act, from a shambolic South by Southwest debut, to the band’s dissolution, to their possible reunion, drags a bit, but the final scene redeems it all with its moral reveal soundtracked by an anthemic composition.”

Interviews with Abrahamson: Michael Dunaway (Paste) and Katie Hasty (HitFix).

Magnolia Pictures has acquired North American rights, reports Nigel M. Smith at Indiewire.

Viewing (4’08”). Abrahamson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy talk to Variety.

Update, 2/3: Frank “rather deftly explores the modern commodification of quirk and how the traditional measures of success may not be what this gang of misfits needs, or even wants,” writes William Goss at “Don’t worry, though, it’s plenty funny until broaching such concerns.”

Updates, 5/8: “Four films into his career, Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, Garage, What Richard Did) is in the rare position of having yet to make one that’s less than excellent,” writes the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “In Frank, his first with name actors, he’s come up with another winner: it’s a punchy, eccentric, zestily confident fable about the dividing line between having talent and having it not. It’s also the best music movie since the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis—think of it as a reflective B-side, with one foot similarly in the life of a real recording artist.”

“Frank works as satire, as memoir, as comedy bromance, but it works mostly because it is just so weird,” finds the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw.

“If it’s a comedy, it’s a dark one,” adds Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. “At the end ‘all is revealed’ only to suggest that the package of enigma, passed around when the music plays, still hasn’t been fully unwrapped. But that is the point, isn’t it? Art’s mystery remains a mystery: who would want it otherwise?”

Updates, 5/9: “Anyone who has ever toiled day-and-night in search of musical perfection, only to reach a point of artistic indifference, will relate to this delightfully screwy black comedy,” writes Adam Woodward at Little White Lies.

“The film isn’t as funny as might have been expected and the final-reel revelations risk undermining its mystique,” finds the Independent‘s Geoffrey Macnab. “Its attitude toward the music business is hard to surmise. We are never sure if it is satire or a celebration of offbeat genius.”

“Frank is a cautionary tale about fragility pushed too far and taking advantage of others,” writes Kieron Tyler at the Arts Desk. “Fassbender was courageous to take on the role, and it may well come to be looked back on as among his greatest performances.”

For the BFI, Michael Brooke lists “10 great films about masks.”

Update, 5/12: “It was brave of Ronson to write his own onscreen surrogate as the villain of the piece, albeit an unacknowledged and inadvertent one,” writes Ryan Gilbey for Sight & Sound. “Braver still of the film to argue that the rest of us will never understand what it’s like to be a genius, so we may as well stop trying to prise open the damaged heads of our heroes.”

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