23 June 2014

Let's Be Frank


Frank starts in some fucking God-awful British coastal town where the beach is made out of broken rocks and the sky is constantly threatening to piss down. Life for Jon is predictably boring with his attempts at writing songs resulting in both unproductive brain-farts and well... shit. One day when out walking, he spots a man attempting suicide which, having seen the grottiness of the area, seems like common sense to me. Being both British and human though, Jon doesn't really worry and instead watches apathetically from the side in the vain hope that he'll suddenly be struck by some musical inspiration. Also, watching this breakdown with understanding nonchalance are the chap’s bandmates who are now in need of a new keyboard player. Jon plays keyboard. He joins the band... it's as easy as that. Sadly though, the band he's joined are so musically experimental that their sound is like listening to somebody angry fuck a dustbin and everybody except the lead singer hates his ginger guts. Oh, and just because that's not already enough of a set up for a ninety minute film, the lead singer is clearly fucking mental having made the common-as-muck life choice of permanently wearing a giant Frank Sidebottom mask on his head. Yep, it's another one of them... A film about the creative process as filtered through the deranged mind of a nutcase, hidden behind a papier-mâché symbol of musical old Madchester. God, I hate all the fucking clichés!
On the giant spectrum of broad definitions, Frank is very definitely at the opposite end of Michael Bay's woman hating, brain-cell raping Transformers franchise. Not only is Frank not a septic pile of shite but I'm sure its entire budget wouldn't last an hour on the set of Bay’s morally fucked up children's films. My point is that with its twisted, surreal characters and its quirky punkish tone, this is very definitely an art film, however that's not to say that it's as impenetrable to a mainstream audience as something as mad as one of David Lynch's more nightmarish examples of celluloid schizophrenia. If you're somebody who loves movies and respects the church-like etiquette of a cinema then you're probably going to love this film. However that's not to say that you have to live, breathe and dream the originality of 'fancy' movies to ‘get’ this as I reckon even the popped-corn chewing, explosion loving chatter-boxes of the world will still find something to enjoy here. Having said that, I'd prefer that if you are like that, for you to stay the fuck away because I'm genuinely of the opinion that if anybody so much as breathes too loudly, cinemas should then have the legal right to shoot you in the back of the fucking head.

Franky says: "Quiet in the cinema!!"
Again, the point that I suppose I'm trying to make is that from the trailers alone, a film about a shit band that's fronted by a nutter in a Frank Sidebottom mask might seem like it's being intentionally alienating, but the story itself is actually fairly conventional for the most part. It's about a band that forms, has troubles and so tries to resolve those troubles by recording an album and then going on tour. There's no directorial flourishes or narrative complexities that you wouldn't find in any 'normal' film really. The oddness instead comes from its characters who, like all humans, are riddled to the core with their self-obsessed issues. Two band members are desperate for the approval of others, one is an unquestionable bitch, one is suicidal and worst of all two are French. In fact, the only reason that Frank might even be seen to be so quirky is  simply because we're so used to the same old personality free sacks of meat that dribble off the screen in so many other films. I suppose like Transformers, the plot of most films involves an external issue becoming the main characters vital shit to crack on with. With this though, pretty much everything that happens is more internal and is a result of the characters’ desire to play music... or whatever the fuck their noise is. As such, this film becomes a great story about the desire to create, to find inspiration and to remain true to yourself when hoping to receive popularity and therefore also a blow job. As somebody who doesn't play an instrument I can really only assume that the main reason people join bands is to find groupies to shoot man-gunge at. Although, maybe that's just me. The film also looks at that fine line between insanity and genius with Frank clearly being uniquely talented and charismatic but also a total fucking headcase.

I suppose if there's one thing that this film isn't, then... well, I mean, I suppose there's lots of things that this film obviously isn't. It's not a glitter coated unicorn, a tramp made out of cheese or a mild mannered dildo. But of the things you might expect it to be, the one thing that Frank isn't is a biopic of Frank Sidebottom or his Mancunian creator Chris Sievey. In fact, despite this movie having been written by the keyboard player from said person’s real band, I don't think the name 'Sidebottom' is even mentioned once during this film. I went into the cinema knowing basically nothing about the people who inspired that giant mask and in all honesty I've left feeling just as oblivious. From what I hear though, the film is a tribute to Sievey more than it is about him instead deciding to honour the tone of his attitudes rather than simply the facts of his life. In that respect I suppose the closest film I can think to being like this one would be Todd Haynes Bob Dylan tribute I'm Not There in which a metric shit-tonne of actors each played one aspect of the man’s personality without anybody actually playing him. Or even I suppose the most recent Diana biopic which honoured the People’s Princess by being so fucking shite that it became famous for dying at the box office after a critical car crash. As well as Frank Sidebottom, this film is also inspired by the legacies of both Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston... Although considering you could fit what I know about them in a small drawer labelled, 'Fuck All', I can't really go into details as to how.

Nothing weird going on here...
I still really loved this film though, which as I keep banging on about is all down to the characters and their complicated dynamics. For someone as clueless as me, the mask could simply be the clean shaven face of the bloke from the Pringles tubes and to be honest, I couldn't really give a shit either way. For me, this was simply about the relationship between a group of people with at least one clearly being mentally ill. As the film progresses and Jon strives for creative control, we see how everything breaks down around him with the films ultimate message seemingly being that being a bit shit is better than being a bit of a cunt. The performances are all great with Domhnall Gleeson continuing to prove that he's more than just a parasitic life-form from the testicles of his father Brendan Gleeson and is actually just an all round great actor. With the exception of the bit about Gleeson Senior’s balls, the same can also be said of Michael Fassbender who manages to brilliantly portray the complications of a likeable crazy through the unblinking creepiness of a papier-mâché  barrier. I really do recommend Frank to pretty much anybody with eyes, ears, or a soul as it's my favourite Frank Sidebottom inspired tragicomedy of the year so far.  Also, this should provide an alternative for those of you who are sick of having Fassbender themed double features in which he shows of his purple helmet in X-Men: First Class and Shame... Now you can watch Shame with Frank instead for a night of movies about Fassbender and his distractingly prominent head... Gross... See you next week, motherfuckers!

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