Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) lives in an out-of-the-way seaside town with his parents. What sustains him through a dead-end job is his songwriting and dreams of music stardom. Meanwhile, a band, the Soronfrpbs, are about to play a gig in town. Jon is on the beach when the band's keyboardist attempts to drown himself and given that he can play the chords C, F and G, the band manager Don (Scoot McNairy) asks him to stand in on the night. And so he meets the band, led by the intimidating Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Frank (Michael Fassbender) who wears a large papier-mâché head morning, noon and night...
While Frank is fiction, it has a basis in fact. Chris Sievey (1955-2010) was known for his comic persona of Frank Sidebottom, fronting a band while wearing a similar head to the title character of this film. Jon Ronson played as part of Sievey/Sidebottom's Oh Blimey Big Band and the film, cowritten by Ronson and Peter Straughan, is based on Ronson's memoir of his time in that band. However, the film is set in the present day and was shot in Ireland – Dun Laoghaire plays the part of Jon's seaside town – and New Mexico and Texas.
It's certainly quite different to Lenny Abrahamson's last film, What Richard Did. But when I reviewed that film for this site, I mentioned that it had a sense of complete assurance, a command of tone and mood and of the filmmaking medium, and you get that with Frank too. The earlier film was specifically set in a post-boom-and-bust Ireland, while the present one is only incidentally set there (Jon basically lives in Everytown-by-the-Sea), and the visuals are brighter than the sun-not-out look of What Richard Did , but that assurance is still there. There's a delicate balance between comedy and pathos, and much of that is due to the performances, cast with a mixture of Irish and American actors. Michael Fassbender spends almost the entire film inside Frank's head so has to act with just his voice and body language for the most part but does so very well. It's brave of Ronson to write his own stand-in as someone spectacularly untalented and more concerned with commerce than art, but by the end of that film Jon has realised this: that humbling moment when you realise that you are in the presence of someone far beyond you in talent and ability, however much you may desire to do what he does. Salieri-like, he tries to take control of Frank, but with disastrous results. This is a film of the social media age: we see several of Jon's tweets on screen and he secretly uploads footage of the band onto Youtube without their knowledge, giving them an unwanted greater fame than they had.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Clara for maximum spikiness and scariness, but she's driven by a fierce protectiveness towards Frank. Carla Azar is a genuine drummer, a member of the band Autolux and Jack White's touring band. The gig and rehearsal music we see on screen were played by the actors themselves. While some may find the final act a little too downbeat, Frank is a delight, a very British comedy of heroic failure.
Ftank is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Curzon Film World. The former was received for review.
Shot digitally, Frank is presented in the correct ratio of 2.40:1. Although there were 35mm prints in circulation, the cinema showing I caught was of a 2K DCP, and this Blu-ray pretty much reproduces what I saw: sharp and colourful with strong blacks and good shadow detail. For some reason, the disc was incompatible with my PC so I can't provide a screengrab: the image above is a publicity still.
There are three soundtrack options for this English-language feature: DTS-HD MA 5.1, LPCM Surround (2.0) and an audio-descriptive track in LPCM Surround. The DTS-HD track, which is mixed louder than the other two, is the winner, if only for the gig and rehearsal scenes, which are convincingly raw-sounding. The subwoofer certainly helps out with the bass in these scenes. Optional English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available. Some French dialogue from band member Baraque (François Civil) and some German in one scene are intentionally left unsubtitled.
There are two audio commentaries: one with Lenny Abrahamson, Domhnall Gleeson and music composer Stephen Rennicks, the other with the two writers, Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan. Often where there are multiple commentaries you can see that they might have been better edited together into one, but in this case they do justify two. Abrahamson tends to dominate the first one, and much of the second one is taken with Ronson talking about his experiences with the real Frank Sidebottom.
Also on the disc are a fairly standard making-of featurette (13:13), with the input of Abrahamson, the four principal cast members and producer Ed Guiney. “Sound Promo” (9:54) goes into more detail about the recording process, including capturing a band playing live, featuring sound editor Niall Brady and editor Nathan Nugent. There are also deleted scenes (11:12): you can see why most of them were removed, for pacing reasons. Finally, there is the theatrical trailer (1:58).
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