This week in movies you missed:
Jon and Frank make friends.
Michael Fassbender puts on a big papier-mâché head to play an art rocker with issues, and the result is my favorite comedy of 2014 (so far).
What You Missed
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young singer-songwriter with more aspiration than inspiration. Basically, all his song ideas are crap.
Then Jon meets the Soronprfbs. The band's keyboardist has just tried to drown himself, and they need a replacement for tonight's show. When Jon shows up for the last-minute (and catastrophic) gig, he's weirded out by the band's American frontman, Frank (Fassbender), who wears a giant fake head. Not just for shows, all the time. ("I have a certificate!" he yells at anyone who asks him to take it off.)
But Frank has taken a liking to the newcomer, and that's how Jon ends up on a seemingly endless country retreat in Ireland, where the band is recording its new album. Or trying to. Things get complicated when the frontman has to describe all his facial expressions, the manager (Scoot McNairy) has a mannequin-sex fetish, and the theremin player (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is imperiously protective of the band's artistic integrity (and obscurity).
You can tell those are Fassbender's hands, right?
As a bond forms between Jon and Frank, Jon surreptitiously films the band's bizarre antics and posts clips on YouTube. By turning the Soronprfbs into a meme, can he give Frank the exposure the latter may secretly crave?
Why You Missed It
Technically, you could still catch Frank
in a theater. This fifth feature from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson has played on 75 U.S. screens and has a December 9 DVD release date. Considering it's already available on VOD ($6.99 through several services), I doubt it will play in Burlington.
Should You Keep Missing It?
In a word, no.
My 20-point, highly scientific scale for the assessment of indie films:
1-4 points: Does it look pretty?
2/4. Let's cut all the crap about pretty cinematography and get to the important part: Why would anyone who looks like Michael Fassbender hide his face under a giant papier-mâché head?!
For the first half hour or so after Frank appeared, I couldn't help thinking the movie was a meta-commentary on celebrity, not unlike Birdman.
When you hide a famously attractive actor under an impenetrable costume, you've got to be saying
Maybe not. Maybe you're just giving that actor a strange and delectable role. Frank is based on a real person, sort of; the film's cowriter, Jon Ronson, used to play in a band with UK personality "Frank Sidebottom
," who sported a similar giant, perversely cheerful-looking noggin.
1-4 points: Does anything happen?
4/4. Lots, as the movie wends its way from Ireland to SXSW to the American heartland. While some parts of the narrative arc are weaker than others, I was always absorbed — and often choked up with laughter.
1-4 points: Does what happens make sense?
"This is just like Paris, Texas."
's trailer makes it look like one of those twee indie movies where weird people do weird things, and it's all so weightless and charming, and we wish we could hang out with them being winsomely bizarre instead of pretending to be grown-ups.
This is actually not
that movie. Yes, a lot of the humor is based on people looking and acting weird — including Jon, who starts out as the "normal" one. But Frank
is a movie that flip-flops your sympathies and takes you to places you don't expect. Despite being a comedy, it takes talent seriously, and it takes mental illness seriously. And it ends with a musical number that could make you cry.
1-4 points: Do the characters seem like real people? Failing that, do they look pretty?
4/4. So, like I mentioned, it took me about half an hour to get past Michael Fassbender with a giant fake head!
Somehow it was different and considerably more disconcerting than when, say, Bradley Cooper voices Rocket the Raccoon
. Maybe there's an Uncanny Valley
aspect to the sight of a human being wearing a giant head, and it's exacerbated when the human being is recognizable worldwide. (Imagine Brad Pitt pulling this stunt…)
I'm not even sure what Frank's doing in this picture.
But after that half hour, Frank stopped being a gimmick or a stunt for me and became a person. I think it happened when he composed and sang an ex tempore song about a carpet tuft. It's a gag, but it's also an amazing
The other actors can use their faces to be funny — Gleeson, McNairy and Gyllenhaal all cracked me up — but Fassbender only has his voice, and he makes great use of it, whether singing or speaking. He has hilarious line readings and moments that will crack you in a whole different way.
1-4 points: Does the movie give us a reason to care about anything happening on screen?
4/4. If you've ever known someone who was wildly talented but also had serious, serious problems, and you wondered where the talent ended and the problems began, this movie will have something to say to you.
It may also start arguments. That's because, as we move gradually out of Jon's perspective, Frank
turns out to be a different film than we may have thought — a darker one. Some viewers may like the shift, others not.
Gyllenhaal plays the band's willfully obscure impresario, who tussles with Jon for control of Frank.
18/20. This movie deserves not to languish in the wasteland of VOD, getting mixed up (inevitably) with Robot & Frank
. Maybe it deserves to be in the awards conversation, too, though that's unlikely to happen. Indie comedies need to be full of warm fuzzies to get awards, and this one's a little jagged and jangled, like the music it showcases.
Now 'scuse me while I go download the soundtrack.
This Week in Theaters
All Hunger Games
, all the time, as Mockingjay, Part 1
arrives. If you're wondering WTF a mockingjay is, well, you probably won't be seeing this anyway.
This Week in Your Living Room
22 Jump Street, And So It Goes, Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, If I Stay, Into the Storm, The Wind Rises.