Monday Movie Musings: Frank (2014)

Frank is one of those movies that has such a specific marketing campaign that it's hard to speak about the movie and keep the mystique that surrounds the film's namesake. It's weird to bring up a marketing campaign when talking about a movie, especially one that's affected me so. But the reason I bring it up is that the box art and everything simply tells you that Michael Fassbender, as Frank, never takes off the head you see featured so prominently.

While this isn't necessarily a false claim, I am going to ruin the last act: You see Michael Fassbender's face in the movie.

I know it shouldn't be shocking, but he never willingly takes the head off. I guess I should just put this up front, because I'm going to talk about the rest of the movie and my thoughts on it. I know this shouldn't be a shocker, but SPOILERS...

The movie centers around Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a wannabe musician that's doing his damndest to write songs but failing miserably. One day he comes across a man trying to drown himself and finds himself talking to the band's manager. My happenstance, he mentions he plays keys and is invited to play with the band that night - no practice, just play three notes. When he shows up, the show has already started and it's weird, electronic, atonal music (similar to industrial).

A mysterious figure appears with a giant paper mache head and begins to sing about a Ginger Crouton. You really see Jon awaken and get that first taste of being a part of something bigger, however just as things really get moving, the equipment shorts out and the band implodes. Shortly thereafter, Don is invited to join the band, presumably for a gig, only to find out that they've moved out into the middle of nowhere to record their album.

Jon begins to document their daily meetings, posting them to YouTube without the bands knowledge or permission. Slowly, while they're secluded, Jon begins to unravel the history of Frank, as well as his band-mates' sordid histories - a lot of which hints at mental illness. This is really an outsider story, trying to become part of the fold but finding, no matter what he does, that he simply does not belong in this group.

There are great moments of Jon trying to connect with everyone else and the only one he's really able to achieve that with is Frank, who is unreliable at best with his responses. Everyone else, for the most part, openly revile Jon and claim to have no idea why Frank asked him to come along.

As a result of his covert uploads, Jon receives an invitation for the band to perform at South by Southwest. While the rest of the band has their misgivings, Frank becomes excited at the fact that they have twenty-thousand hits on YouTube and opts to leave Ireland to head to Texas. Of course, Frank begins to unravel as he's faced with huge crowds and the realization that 20k people isn't really anything at all. The band abandons them once Frank chooses to chase fame with Jon. On stage, Jon hijacks the show to play his shitty tunes, finally driving a wedge between him and Frank. Jon snaps as well, trying to force Frank to remove the head. Frank tries to escape and is hit by a car, destroying the head, but he disappears before Jon can get to the accident.

What follows is Jon's desperate search for Frank, knowing full well that he fucked up everything. He finds that his social media following doesn't believe him and thinks it's all a stunt - even going so far as to openly mock him and his former bandmates. He eventually does find Frank and we do get to see a profoundly broken man who, despite attempting to write music, is unable to without his band.

The final scene of the movie is one of my favorite lately. For me, the rest of the movie was interesting, not great - definitely not a comedy, as the trailer would have you believe. But, in the final scene, you get such a profound transformation from Frank and his family that I've had to watch it more than a dozen times in the few days since I finished the film. In its lead up, you see his band performing without him and it's lifeless, dull - the epitome of a burned out band - and you see a timid figure shuffling up to the stage. As Maggie Gyllenhaal sizes him up, she begins to falter, realizing full well who is standing at the base of the stage. As she trails off, Frank begins to talk, not exactly addressing them, but making observations about the room around them. We see Jon sitting at the bar, watching them with trepidation. 

As more of these observations begin to string together, the rhythm guitarist passes him a mic and suddenly Frank's voice is deeper, stronger, more confident. The drummer joins in, then the guitarist as a song comes together on the fly. Maggie just stares at him, not joining in, quiet, as if unsure whether to put her faith in this broken man again. Then, she pushes past the microphone, using her theremin again to help compliment the song, then forces herself to dance to the song once more.

We then see Jon's empty stool, then him walking along the street at the band hits a crescendo, then . . . CREDITS.

It's so hard to talk about this film without ruining the central conceit that Frank never takes off his head. To do so ruins the last act. And, at that point, it doesn't even seem to change anything about the dynamics - only that we're able to see Frank's facial expressions. He does such a marvelous job being this center-of-attention, enigmatic character that you don't even need it. One small interaction I love between Jon and Frank is that Jon is obviously uncomfortable, so Frank offers to describe his facial expressions. This opens up a language between the two of them, which the other band members find annoying and yet another reason to dislike Jon.

The other thing about this movie is that there's a question of how reliable Jon is as a narrator. It's not like it's told through his voice over. We do see what is happening around him and, for the most part, are left to interpret it as we will. As a result, a lot of the band's hostility seems misplaced until we see the stage show. It honestly seems like Jon is trying to improve, even though the band re-purposes his songs and dismantles them in front of them, and that Jon has the band's best interests at heart. It's only when Frank is on stage, dressed in a dress with makeup all over his face that we realize how destructive this has been for Frank.

There really are no characters to root for in this movie - everyone is selfish and self-destructive. However, it is an interesting character study of what happens when a mediocre artists is able to exert control over a superior one and how the search for fame ultimately rips them apart.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.