Based on the memoirs of Jon Ronson, Frank offers a biopic of the man, wannabe musician looking for inspiration, and its encounter with Frank, misunderstood musician wearing a papier-mâché head. Wandering around the sea-side, muttering lyrics of a song that will never be considered as good, Jon comes across SORONPRFBS, a band whose keyboard player is trying to commit suicide. As the man is sent to the hospital, Jon takes on the opportunity to get involved with the group for what should have been a one off gig. Finally considered for his talent, he gets enrolled and flies to Ireland few weeks later to record an album with the band.
The film works as a musical journey of initiation for Jon, whose acceptance by the musicians highly depends on the length of his beard. Months are going by, facial hair grows, inspiration is sought after. As the title suggests, Jon’s universe quickly develops around Frank’s, who constantly strives to reach authenticity in his work and lyrics, whilst hiding himself behind a mask. Suffering from mental illness, as most of SORONPRFBS’s members, Frank becomes a real curiosity for Jon. Heavily using social media, Jon narrates their adventures in the wooden chalets, almost turning the film into a tale of his new friend of his, who doesn’t seem to belong to the same world.
There lies the strength of Frank. Tackling the subject of mental illnesses can prove very challenging. Deliberately choosing to depict Frank within his own universe enable a poetic insight of his mind and reinforces the depiction of his frustrations towards the outside world. The growing friendship between Jon and Frank, respectively played by Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender, is what lead the film throughout. From understanding to misunderstanding, from harmony to tensions, each step of their relationship guides the band towards another step of musical recognition.
The matrix between the two actors clearly stands out from the rest of the cast, which, unfortunately, somehow unbalances the dramatic impact of the other roles. Heavily relying on a ‘Sundance aesthetics’, the film sometimes takes easy ways into depicting Frank’s universe: as the film goes on, the use of twitter quotes slightly looses its interest and starts a real redundancy in the cinematography. But overall, Frank remains an agreeable film to watch, that manages to intrigue. It enables a reflexion around mental illnesses and creation which takes the audience on board for a journey through Frank’s unusual musical universe.
Frank, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, is released in UK cinema by Curzon Film World. Certificate 15.