By Don Simpson | August 21, 2014
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, François Civil, Carla Azar
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) lives a charmless life in a sleepy English seaside town. He has aspirations of becoming a great songwriter, so he offsets the brain-numbing mundanity of his cubicle job with silly songs that he composes earnestly in his mind and diligently records in his bedroom.
On one fateful day, Jon is dislodged from his humdrum existence when a strange band — the seemingly unpronounceable Soronprfbs — are in dire need of a keyboardist who can meet the simple requirement of knowing how to play F, C and A. Meeting the band’s qualifications, Jon is being whisked off to a remote cabin in Ireland to help record Soronprfbs’ new album.
From Jon’s perspective, the backing members of the Soronprfbs — Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Baraque (Francoise Civil), Nana (Carla Azar) — represent the gamut of dysfunctional and deranged psychological traits. Obviously not of the same musical ethos as the rest of them, Jon finds himself on the receiving end of a steady stream of cruelty and resentment. Jon puts up with this harassment because he admires the band’s mysterious frontman, Frank (Michael Fassbender). Outfitted in a large papier-mâché head that he “must” wear at all times, Frank is a tortured artist who has channeled all of his eccentricities into his art. As far as Jon is concerned, Frank is the quintessential songwriter because of his psychoses. Therefore, Jon grows a scraggly beard and morphs the band members’ constant cajoling into his own personal dysfunction to enhance his creativity.
Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is one of the best cinematic representations of the artistic tug of war between creativity and success in the music business. Debatably, popular music has historically relegated the most creative and talented musicians to the underground, leaving only the most homogenized music for the mainstream audiences consume. An artist as conceptually complex as Frank has no desire to become homogenized, thus throwing any chances of becoming a financially successful musician (which in itself has become a bit of an oxymoron, even in pop culture). Music is Frank’s lifeblood, his passion, his dream; the financial piece of the equation does not seem to matter to him. Though the possibility of having a large YouTube fan base seems somewhat appealing (at least a curiosity) to him, Frank reveals no real desire to become famous. Frank would probably like for people to connect with his music, but he really just wants an outlet to create new music, regardless of the size of the potential audience. Just like any true artist, Frank creates music purely out of desire; because once you begin creating art for money, it becomes something else…a job.
Jon, on the other hand, takes it upon himself to try to turn Frank’s music into a profitable venture because he assumes that is what all of the Soronprfbs would want. He tries to get the Soronprfbs the attention that he believes they deserve, while also attempting to make their music more palatable to a wider audience. Just like any band, the Soronprfbs are not all on the same exact wavelength, especially when it comes to their end goal; and what Frank does exceptionally well is capture the power dynamics and interpersonal relationships of the band members as they try to navigate their direction as a band.
Frank‘s biggest weakness is that the Soronprfbs come off as a bunch of one-dimensional caricatures of personality traits, leaving Jon as the only fleshed-out character. There is a purpose for this, however, as Frank is told solely from Jon’s perspective. We are presented with the characters as Jon sees them, nothing more.