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United Kingdom 2014
Directed by
Lenny Abrahamson
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Angie Fox
3.5 stars


Synopsis: After witnessing the attempted suicide of the band’s keyboard player, wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to join an eccentric rock band with the unpronounceable moniker “Sonopfrbs”. He gets more than he bargained for with lead singer Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears an enormous papier maché cartoon character head 24-7 (even when showering), and a collection of odd-bod band mates including Frank’s intensely over-protective girlfriend Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Jon’s social media campaign detailing the band’s recording sessions gains traction on Twitter and the crew prepare for a debut performance at the South By Southwest festival, where Frank’s loose threads of sanity begin to unravel.

To label Frank quirky is an understatement and were it not for its sensitive portrayal of human frailty and mental illness it would border on the self-indulgently weird. But anyone with an interest in music history, a penchant for black comedy or a fascination with bizarre human behaviour will undoubtedly be drawn into this story inspired by a real-life punk rocker, Chris Sievey. Sievey, aka Frank Sidebottom, was the lead singer of 1980s Manchester band, Oh Blimey Big Band, the keyboard player of which, Jon Ronson, co-wrote the film's screenplay with Peter Straughan.

Sievey was noted for performing beneath a large cartoon face made of papier-maché . Despite being hamstrung by the loss of an actor’s greatest tool, his facial expressions, Fassbender is sublime as the fragile but gifted Frank. His head is beneath the disturbingly expressionless mask (the cartoon face is permanently set on bewildered) for most of the film yet Fassbender uses his entire body to imbue Frank with mystery, fragility and charm.

As Jon, Domhnall Gleeson epitomises a nerdy earnestness. Without him the band would be in danger of descending into total chaos and Jon’s drive to push the band to achieve stardom and commercial success is the only link to a conventional career path in an otherwise insane environment. Maggie Gyllenhaal perfectly balances Clara’s stern over-protectiveness with tenderness, particularly when Frank begins to break down mentally. The tension between Clara and Jon, who is adamant that Frank can handle his place in the spotlight, provides drama and pathos.

The persistent quirkiness might not sit comfortably with everyone but ultimately Frank is a sensitive portrayal of mental illness and the ties that bind.




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