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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE version |
. "Frank"

Call it an offbeat psychological comedy, an off-balance dramedy with instrumental backing, a study in psychopathy (Asberger's Syndrome and Schizophrenia?), an amusement from a dark mind, or an adventure with a wannabe musician who gets a gig in the wrong (or, right) band that makes no demands on his "talent." This is "Frank," the movie.

It's not for everyone.

A whole lot of critics are in tune with it, presumably for seeing in it values that the wider audience might not.

Opening on the narrator of the piece, Jon, a not-unpleasant soul trying to write songs with little success. His world is changed when he first catches Frank and his post-punk players.

Wearing a round prosthesis face with an unthreatening expression of searching for an answer to an unspoken question, Frank (Michael Fassbender, "Prometheus") goes on stage as the frontman for the group, which may seem to some as having been assembled from rejects of one kind of institution or another.
But not to Jon.

Frank takes the mic and leads his players through a series of keyless, wandering lines of sound to back his stream-of-consciouness lyrics. The band rambles in support behind him. Jon is ecstatic (which makes sense in the context of where he's at musically) and approaches their manager, Don (Scoot McNairy, "Argo", "Halt and Catch Fire"), a man who is quite content in the belief that his crew is producing music that merits stage and microphone.

Don immediately senses the right stuff [read: enthusiasm] in Jon (Domhnall Gleeson, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows") and offers him the keyboard slot left vacant by his burnout keyboard player. The timing is perfect for Jon's next gig: the production of an album.

To Jon, it's the break of a lifetime. But, he isn't exactly a good fit as his bandmates see it. They think of Jon as more a threat than a savior. In fact, they hate him, barely endure him, and have no trouble expressing their feelings of betrayal in having him around. To Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal, "White House Down"), on Theramin, Don is an alien who needs to be cut out (in a literal sense) as she sees an existential threat to the cozy conclave. Clara's bass-player boyfriend Baraque (Francois Civil) follows her every move and mood.

These are no paragons of mental health and the reverence they have for Frank and his rare "genius," would seem to be more a safe refuge from the outside world than a commercial or even an artistic enterprise. Which may account for their instant loathing of anyone not like themselves who might upset the chemical balance of the group.

Instinctively, they see Don as an alien who doesn't (or, couldn't) share their leader's freeform non-melody and subject matter of the irrelevant. Blind worship is a necessity. Sanity doesn't exactly rule here, Jon's a threat.

What they don't know, and wouldn't appreciate if they did, Jon is posting the group's work and progress on the social networks, slowly building a following -- and proving that there are potential devotees of almost anything. But, does this mean success for Frank & Co? Or, are fans the kiss of death for them, the mask, and/or the phenomenon of Frank?

Before we go all profound on the meaning behind all this (estrangement, soulfulness, abberration, space for the singular and bizarre, fear of displacement?), let's just call it an amusement from a dark mind. That would be musician Chris Sievey who actually did once wear a false head. It led to Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan to write the screenplay from which Lenny Abramanson directed.

Getting back to those critics who have lauded this film, the surprise is that such off-beat materal attracted actors with such heat on their tails as Fassbinder and Gyllenhaal. Which would seem to indicate how much roles of imagination are a lure to an actor's needs and sense of legacy. Their presence here may also indicate the primary source of the up-beat adulation from the critical community. Stardom cannot be denied.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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