This is a SPOILER FREE review…for the most part.
Frank is the story of Jon, played by Domnhall Gleeson, who is a wannabe musician who stumbles into a gig with the art house band "Soronprfbs". Fronting the band is lead singer, Frank Sidebottom who wears a giant paper-mache head at all times. Frank is played by Michael Fassbender. Jon ends up replacing the previous keyboardist in the band, who has gone crazy. The film follows the trials and tribulations of Jon, "Soronprfbs" and Frank, in that order. The film is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan.
Domnhall Gleeson does a good job of driving us through the story as Jon. He has an accommodating energy and presence which makes him a good narrator. His suburban, rock-star wannabe turning into a fish out of artistic water is interesting enough to keep you watching, but the script and direction don't keep you caring. I do look forward to seeing more of Gleeson in the future though, he strikes me as an interesting and developing talent.
In a supporting role, Maggie Gyllenhall plays Clara, a member of the band. Gyllenhall has been great in other films, I'm thinking of her role in Secretary as a prime example, so it isn't as if she lacks talent, but here she confuses caricature with character. It may not be all her fault. The film, at times, is so rudderless as to be lost-at-sea, so I doubt she received much direction. But you never lose the sense that she is play acting at being a real person. There isn't a single moment when she feels real. She never once does anything remotely interesting or genuine or shows Clara to be anything other than a Saturday Night Live sketch. Her work strikes me as being lazy and unfocused, but then again, so is the film, so I think the director must take the lions share of the blame. Which is a shame, because that character in the hands of a better or more imaginative actress, or director, could have been gold…instead the film suffers greatly because of it.
Frank is one of those films that spends the first 3/4ths of it's time being one thing, and then spends the last 1/4 of the film being something else. It either doesn't know what it wants to be or lacks the courage to be what it wants, and when it finally find some deeper purpose and meaning, it is too late, because the impact of the final twenty minutes is undermined by the lack of focus in the first hour and ten.
I found the film to be frustrating because it wastes what is a very interesting story, or at least what could have been a very interesting story and it throws away Michael Fassbender's fantastic performance. The majority of the film is about the band, the supporting characters and the oddity of their artistic process. What this lacks is a focus on the relationship between Gleeson's Jon and Fassbender's Frank. That relationship gathers no steam until the latter part of the film. When the film finally decides to be about something, namely about how fame, with all it's toxicity and corrosive effects, and our addiction to it, is like a mental illness, it shines, and is genuinely moving and insightful. Sadly, everything that leads up to this clarity is so muddled and unfocused that it dissipates the dramatic and human impact of Fassbender's performance and the film's climax.
What the film needed to do was to be about Fassbender's Frank. Frank is interesting. The more we see Frank, the more we want to see Frank. The more we learn about Frank, the more we want to learn about Frank, and the more we learn about Frank the more we learn about ourselves, our culture and humanity in general. For some reason, Frank is sidelined. He is a sideshow to the main show of the bands other members. We are forced to focus on the supporting cast, the most famous of which, Ms. Gyllenhall, is so awful as to be unbelievably distracting.
Frank is a film that can't figure out what it wants to be, and when it is at it's best, it let's Fassbender's talent and skill show us what it is about. This should have been a character study with a laser like focus on Frank. Fassbender's performance is so heartbreaking, and so painstaking that I was deeply offended to see it squandered. We deserve better, and so does Michael Fassbender. With all of that said, and as frustrating an experience as it was, I am glad I saw the film for Michael Fassbender's performance alone.