Frank movie review: the heart of artness

Frank green light

An askew, bitter dramedy of artistic pretension and creative desperation that has something sneakily marvelous to say about what it takes — and what it doesn’t — to be an artist.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Look. You’re just gonna have to go with this.” So says Don (Scoot McNairy: Non-Stop, Promised Land) to Jon (Domhnall Gleeson: About Time, Anna Karenina), the latest member of the experimental band Soronprfbs. The weirdest thing about Soronprfbs isn’t their unpronouncable name. It isn’t that they have a Spinal Tap-esque problem keeping keyboard players (this is why keyboardist Jon has just joined). It’s that their leader, Frank (Michael Fassbender: The Counsellor, Prometheus), is never seen without his giant papier-mâché false head. Not onstage. Not backstage. Not in rehearsals. Not when just hanging out. Not ever. (Fassbender is remarkably sympathetic and frequently very funny in a performance that relies entire on his voice and body language.) That’s what Jon is gonna have to go with, and he does. Because as a wannabe musician stuck in a cube-farm day job in a depressing seaside England town, Jon is desperate for inspiration for his songwriting, which so far is mostly derivative crap. And when what he thinks is supposed to be a weekend trip to Ireland with Soronprfbs for a gig turns into “we’re staying in this remote house in the middle of nowhere until we get this album recorded,” Jon goes with that, too. “I have found my abusive childhood,” he announces happily on the Net to his meager band of Twitter and tumblr followers: he has found what he believes he needs to become a great artist like Frank.

There’s a sneakily marvelous thing about this askew, bitter dramedy of artistic pretension and creative desperation: as Jon tumbles down a rabbit hole of what looks like performance art taken to an extreme, his misapprehension — which mirrors a general misapprehension among our culture at large — about what it takes to be an artist and what it takes to make art gets a much deserved smack upside his normal-sized flesh-and-blood head. Sadness lurks under the acerbic battle for the soul of the band that develops between Jon and theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal: White House Down, Hysteria): she’s extremely protective of Frank and their music, almost to the point of not wanting anyone to hear it, while Jon at least has some notion of what it takes to succeed in today’s pop culture, and has been posting videos of the band to YouTube, where they’ve been getting some attention. The middle of nowhere, it turns out, isn’t the middle of nowhere anymore if you’ve got Internet access, which also prompts the question, Doesn’t art require an audience to be art? Though your audience isn’t always going to take from your art what you intend, either…

Look. You’re just gonna have to go with this. And you should. Frank is a weird little wonder.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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