Review: ‘Frank’ puts a fake head on Michael Fassbender but is more than quirk

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson flank Michael Fassbender, who's hidden under a papier-mache head. Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson flank Michael Fassbender, who’s hidden under a papier-mache head.
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘Frank’
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson
Rating: R
3 (out of 5)

It might not seem it, but “Frank” — the tale of a band fronted by a guy who never removes a goofy papier-mache head — is rooted in reality. The inspiration is Chris Sievey, a musician who performed under a mask that looks exactly like the one in “Frank.” In fact, this music chronicle turns out to be less quirky than deadpan and absurdist, even darker than it initially lets on. Up until the third act, there’s a thrilling tension between the cute and the dangerous.

Our token audience identification figure is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a perhaps too nice struggling musician enlisted to join a traveling band when their keyboardist gets too high to play a show. They call themselves the “Soronprfbs,” and their music is as difficult as their name. Their lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), also never removes his fake head, unless he’s putting on his back-up fake head. Jon thinks he’s going on tour; instead they wind up spending months at a remote country cabin recording an album, for which they have no concrete ideas.

Michael Fassbender: lookin' good. Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Michael Fassbender: lookin’ good.
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

That they play aimless noise rock rather than twee or even catchy or soulful music is a good thing. Ditto that their ranks include Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who never smiles and never misses an opportunity to be needlessly cruel to the puppydoggish Jon. In fact, in many ways this is a real, dirty rock movie, one that harkens back to the past while examining the present. The band’s epic recording process draws from Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica,” but when they have to actually find a fanbase and perform for crowds, things become more interesting. So much of “Frank” is silly, but it asks tough questions about why bands make music, who they make it for and how they keep at it, especially in the face of what is now a crumbling business. It has a cartoonishly handsome actor hiding his face, but it’s a more serious film than “Begin Again.”

In fact, “Frank” winds up going too serious. There’s always hurt and melancholy and trauma lingering under the film’s nutty surface, but when it rises up, it goes too far. There didn’t need to be an explanation for Frank’s behavior, much less the one the film gives him. “Frank” throws a hail mary, and it does work, but it’s better when it lets Fassbender show off his underutilized comic chops. It’s a partly physical performance, and Fassbender kills with snakelike body movements, as well as dry line readings, as when he, ostensibly to make things less awkward for his bandmates, starts narrating his facial expressions. Long as “Frank” thinks to keep him a charismatic — but still self-effacing — mystery, all’s well.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Pennsylvania police shooter manhunt near home of suspect's…

A police manhunt intensified on Friday for the gunman who killed an officer and wounded another in an ambush at a Pennsylvania police barracks a week ago.

Local

MAP: New York City street closures, September 19,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on September 19, 20 and 21. There will be many streets and…

Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Television

'Outlander' Season 1, Episode 7: 'The Wedding'

Claire and Jamie are man and wife!!! Like, ALL THE WAY, if you know what we mean. (Twice.)

Movies

Kevin Smith makes peace with the Internet

I was thinking about Ain't It Cool News and Harry Knowles last night, wondering if anyone from Ain't It Cool had reviewed my new movie…

Movies

Art imitates life in 'Swim Little Fish Swim'

There's a certain comfort to be taken in finding that young artists are still moving to New York and trying to make it — and…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

NFL

Oday Aboushi ready for increased role, and to…

Oday Aboushi might feel comfortable enough to engage in some trash talk the next time he is on the field.

NFL

Giants vs. Texans: 3 things to watch

The Giants host the surprising Texans (2-0) in what may already be a must-win game for Big Blue.

NFL

Eric Decker misses practice again, could miss Monday

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker missed practice Thursday as he continues to rehab a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday.

MLB

Derek Jeter still focused on baseball as final…

Derek Jeter has effectively hid his emotions for 20 years in the Bronx.

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…