Some experimental artists can be a little strange. Those people look at Frank and say “dude, that guy is weird.” See, it can be really counter productive when you get too far inside your own head.
(Spoilers for Frank below.)
Frank tells the story of Jon, a young aspiring musician who joins an avant garde band, the Soronprfbs, and copes with the odd characters that make up the band including lead vocalist Frank who wears an oversized papier-mâché head at all times. Jon wants to make it big and struggles to push the band to that end but find that maybe the band’s priorities are different than his own.
The sheer oddity of Frank and his bandmates brings me into the movie early on and strong performances keep me engaged. The titular mystery man inside the giant fake head is portrayed expertly by Michael Fassbender. He throws himself fully into the role and with just his body language and voice communicates Frank’s emotional weight as well as child like levity. Domhnall Gleeson, who seems to be showing up everywhere lately, is our perfect entry point. Maggie Gyllenhaal is consistently unnerving as the antagonist against Jon’s aspirations for the band. These three performances must carry the film and the actors do that job wonderfully.
I found myself thinking about Frank long after it was over. Every viewer brings their own experiences and values to a movie. As each person is unique each person could take something different away from the same film. As I have dealt a lot with mental illness in both myself and my friends it’s this topic that really stood out to me in Frank more than anything about music. Everyone in the Soronprfbs has issues, Frank and his insistence on wearing a giant fake head being the most readily visible. Before Jon enters the picture they make their music, play small gigs, and seem to be pretty ok with that. It’s Jon’s dreams of success that push the band. He thinks with a little help he can get them off the ground. Even Frank himself is excited at the prospect of letting more people hear their music. Very quickly though he feels like he’s in over his heads. Continued pressure from Jon results in a severe implosion. He unfortunately lets himself get talked into a situation that he can’t handle.
Jon is essentially trying to make the band conform to what he considers to be normal, to “fix” them. Why WOULDN’T they want more more fans and success? What Jon doesn’t realize is that what may be his normal is not the same as their normal. People with mental illnesses can be very much the same. A person with depression, or social anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder, sometimes simply has a different status quo than others, a different set of needs and obstacles, a different criteria for success and difficulty. These people aren’t broken and need to be fixed. They just have a different set of limitations than the next person. You wouldn’t ask person who is legally blind without their glasses to drive without them; they simply can’t. Asking a person with severe depression to just “cheer up” can be an equally impossible notion.
It’s this lesson that Jon learns during his time with Frank. He never means to hurt Frank but ultimately does more harm than good by trying to force Frank to be more “normal.” After pushing too hard everything falls apart around them. It’s only when Jon tries to understand Frank’s issues and accept them that he starts to undo the damage he did. Rather than ignoring Frank’s limitations he helps him to cope and operate within them.
Frank sounds like a silly comedy on paper. There are definitely some laughs to be here but the film uses the top level absurdity to speak very honestly about some heavy issues.
Like that head. That thing was huge. Dude must had some killer neck muscles.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny – Set 18 years after the previous film Shu Lien once again finds herself caught in a battle over that damned sword. While I remember the original being essentially a love story that happened to have martial arts in it this Netflix original sequel is a straight up kung fu flick. An evil emperor, a band of likeable mercenaries, and fairly simple motivations driving them all. Oddly, this movie reaches for a larger spectacle on a smaller budget resulting is some really unfortunate CGI at times. Those issues said, the action is fun. If you’re a fan of the wushu style of martial arts movies where the fighters are almost dancing, physics are defied, and gravity is only a suggestion, this unnecessary sequel is still enjoyable.
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday – What has Pee-Wee been doing all this years? Well…nothing. And he’s ready to shake up his hum drum life when he becomes Joe Manganiello’s new best friend and is invited to his birthday party in New York. The bulk of this movie is just a series of disjointed unrelated vignettes as Pee-Wee meets crazy characters on his road trip, none of which are ever particularly entertaining. I don’t know if Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was a better movie or if I was just younger but nothing here ever feels as fun as dancing to “Tequila,” looking for the basement in the Alamo, or “I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.” The best bits are Joe Manganiello, star of True Blood and Magic Mike, acting almost as childlike as Pee-Wee. But even this falls flat for me personally since I have no connection with that actor. The whole thing feels dull and forced.
Wet Hot American Summer – On the last day of summer camp in 1981 the counsellors make last ditch efforts to find Mr. or Miss Right Now. This farsical send up of sexually charged comedies of the 80’s is filled with funny people and unexpected punchlines that had me on the floor. Released in 2001 this movie never went anywhere. I can see why; it’s very offbeat, but in all the best ways as far as I’m concerned. From talking cans of mixed vegetables to people being a little too honest with their priorities this movie is great surprise.
Creep – This found footage movie that is thankfully devoid of anything too shaky features a videographer hired to profile a man who is definitely a little disturbed, but is he dangerous? (Spoiler alert, he is.) Defying normal found footage conventions this movie changes setting a couple of times and relies less on jump scares and more on growing unease and tension. At times darkly humorous, the film’s effectiveness lies in keeping you on the hook wondering if and when things will shift from unsettling to terrifying. Average overall it’s worth seeing if you want something a little different in the genre.
Victoria – When I heard that this was a feature length film that is filmed in one unbroken continuous shot and without any fancy hidden edit cheating like Birdman I knew I had to check it out. We follow the titular Victoria, a young Spanish woman in Germany, as she has a flirtatious encounter with a young man and his friends. She gets wrapped up in their troubles when it comes to light that they owe money to some dangerous people and need to pay up. The camera stays with Victoria as she goes from the street to the rooftops, drives city blocks, and goes from noisy dance clubs to bloody shootouts. Remove the gimmick and we’re left with a pretty plain crime movie full of characters that are well acted but don’t have much in the way of arcs. If you’re interested in the craft of movie making though it’s worth watching them pull off this feat.
Idiocracy – In this satirical comedy a pair of human test subjects are frozen and thaw out in the year 2505. The human race has developed into a dim witted bunch ruled by corporate advertising. Intelligence is looked down upon, only the most simple and base of entertainment is sought after, and the government is an ineffectual side show and oh my this feels a little close to home. There are some laughs to be had here, especially from Terry Crewes as the president, but the schtick wears a little thin before the end credits roll. It’s worth an idle watch if you enjoy the actors here like Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph.