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10° & PARTLY CLOUDY ON THURSDAY 27 JUNE IN SYDNEY
By Sarah Ward
June 10, 2014
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Frank

There's no one quite like Frank, the film or the character.
By Sarah Ward
June 10, 2014
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There’s no one quite like Frank, the person, and there’s nothing quite like Frank, the film. The former, as played by Michael Fassbender while wearing a papier mache mask, is a soul seemingly eccentric but really just looking for the essence of creation and contentment. The latter is quirky by design but beautifully bittersweet by execution, revelling in all life’s failures and flaws.

Frank leads an experimental rock band with the fittingly unpronounceable name of The Soronprfbs, and that’s exactly where Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) finds him. Downtrodden in his dismal everyday routine, Jon wants desperately to be a musician but lacks the opportunity and the ability to extend himself. His unlikely encounter with his new friend with the obscured face brings both, one fruitful, the other less so. As the reconfigured group ventures from the Irish wilderness to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas in search of musical fulfilment, the solace they find comes from internal, not external, forces.

Journalist turned screenwriter Jon Ronson, of The Men Who Stare at Goats fame, turns fact into fiction in Frank, taking his characters and narrative from his own experiences. With co-scribe Peter Straughan and director Lenny Abrahamson, he spins a story inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the comic persona of musician Chris Sievey, as fine-tuned and fleshed out where necessary. The basics remain, including the large and unusual headwear that demands attention in every scene that it appears in. Added in the tinkering with the tale is thoughtfulness that resonates like a homage while investing a layer of universality.

That relatable spirit weaves through a film that ponders the oft-contemplated contrast between reality and perception in an interesting and endearing fashion. While Frank must resort to announcing his emotions on screen for the benefit of Jon, and to the disdain of his other avant garde band mates — Hysteria’s Maggie Gyllenhaal and The Rover’s Scoot McNairy among them — the sentiment of his every sentence is always clear, heightening the feature’s commentary on communication and identity.

Of course, much of the success stems from casting, including Fassbender in the titular role. Gleeson is wonderfully uncertain, Gyllenhaal convincingly curt and McNairy ever eclectic; however, it is the hidden figure that combines all their traits and more into a singular yet complex package. Again, it is his words that do all the talking, offbeat charm oozing from every wide-ranging conversation and progressive tune. Indeed, whilst shot with the same anarchic energy that adjusts to the mood of the story, Frank is a film to listen to as keenly as to watch — from every inflection in Fassbender’s sometimes strange, sometimes touching dialogue to the diverse array of noisy, catchy, cute and unconventional songs.

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