(hoopla/Kanopy/VOD) A ‘stranger in a strange land’ band story that focuses on the enigma of frontman Frank (Michael Fassbender), who never removes his gigantic, pie-eyed papier-mâché head, and the folks drawn into his orbit including Domhnall Gleeson on keyboard, Maggie Gyllenhaal on theremin, Carla Azar on drums, and Scoot McNairy as the band’s manager/producer. (Really, that’s a tremendous cast.)
While it’s directed by Lenny Abrahamson (ROOM), it’s really the vision of renaissance man Jon Gleeson who, before being the gonzo journalist who wrote THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS and making documentaries, he played keyboard in Chris Sievey’s band, known as THE FRANK SIDEBOTTOM BAND.
Chris Sievey was an aspiring singer/songwriter but one day he fashioned himself a gigantic, pie-eyed papier-mâché head and adopted a rather juvenile comedic man-child persona and thus Frank Sidebottom was born. Frank Sidebottom would perform both in his band and as a comedian, ultimately becoming a minor British TV personality. Sadly, the character would ultimately feel like a boondoggle for Chris Sievey’s artistically-minded aspirations, and Sievey had a hard time coping with Frank’s limitations. (You can learn more about Chris Sievey and Frank through the documentary BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY (2019, Prime/Rental).) Allegedly, Gleeson asked for — and received — Cievey’s blessing for the film before he died, but who knows what Gleeson actually pitched to Sievey.
The Frank portrayed in FRANK is a cracked take on Sievey’s Frank: Gleeson’s Frank is the frontman of a band, and he’s child-like, and a few other similarities, but his Frank is also quieter and more thoughtful — perhaps what Gleeson suspected Sievey wanted to be in the first place. The end result is a a film that meanders some times while wearing its heart on its sleeve, while occasionally pulling the rug out from under the audience. It helps that the film ends on an emotional high note. (I rewatch the closing scene on a monthly basis.)
It’s worth noting that all of the songs were performed by the actors — no miming here — and by Gleeson’s admission it worked out because of Carla Azar (who you may know as the drummer for Autolux, and is now Jack Black’s drummer) was a firm backbone for every scene, and while watching, you can see her intensity and professionalism bleed through.
Secure the Galactic Perimeter:
Final scene (obviously, spoilers):