Independent music has everything to do with bands or singers producing their own music outside of a studio and most often results in a final product that’s the exact vision of its creators. Now, does that mean everything is going to be a hit? Probably not, seeing as most hits are created by studios that have control over artist’s songs. Now, with the term independent in mind, that could also mean that the music is experimental and totally unlike anything you’ve ever heard. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad, but it’s definitely something that takes some getting used to.
Jon (Domhnall Glesson spends much of his time stranded in a cubicle, working a boring 9-5 job. To pass the time, he creates music and lyrics in his head, based off of his surroundings and the people he sees. He plays piano and writes songs, but he has never done anything extraordinary with his talents, until a band invites him to play a gig with them. However, things don’t go too swimmingly, as the band’s unique style didn’t appeal to everyone. Nonetheless, Jon is asked to come to their lodge for the weekend to help them record an album.
The band consists of some zany members, including the viciously quirky Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the troubled Don (Scoot McNairy, the foreigner Baraque Francois Civil, the strange Nana (Carla Azar), and Frank (Michael Fassbender). Leader of the group, Frank wears a paper mache head and his artistic vision is expressed through unique sounds that the band creates with nature and technology.
Frank has independent written all over it, as it serves as an independent film that follows independent music. With that knowledge, you can only imagine what this quirky film would be like. While some have raved that it provides a remarkable look into our music culture, at mental illness, and how people interpret/receive art, I found that it never went too far into said subjects, but does offer up a lot to think about. There are some obscurely great performances in this film and while I did enjoy the film for the most part, I didn’t find the comedy and enlightenment that other critics have proclaimed to have found.
The film’s leading man, Domhnall Gleeson, is rapidly becoming a great talent in the business and it’s these types of odd roles that make him so likable. While he plays the voice of reason in the film and is by far the most “sane” member of the group, Gleeson does embrace the world that Frank and his band-mates live in and the transformation is quite spectacular. Though he still focuses on attention and approval of others, Gleeson’s understated loneliness and misunderstanding of others makes his character all the more interesting. Speaking of interesting, it was quite a fun time to watch music be made from all sorts of objects, sounds, and happenings that most people dismiss. The art of music is a wonderful thing and it was refreshing to see it take form within “unconventional” methods.
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy both provide unusual supporting performances, so far against most of what they’ve played. We get to see an easily aggravated side of Gyllenhaal that’s frightening and hilarious. McNairy continues to do outstanding work in supporting roles and wonderfully displays how it is to feel undervalued when compared to someone great. In that sense, I could understand how he feels because this film really is Michael Fassbender’s show. As Frank, Fassbender creates comedy, tragedy, music, and life from within that paper mache head. He’s such a strange character and this is the most odd that Fassbender has ever been, but it works on every level. You couldn’t tell that it was him half the time and he commands the screen anytime he shows up. He also sings very well and has a few standout songs that are sure to entertain audiences.
The film’s exploration of cultural trends and the creation of art is admirable, as it works sometimes and then falls flat others. The band’s experimental sound allows us a look into the minds of these band members and we are fortunate enough to see how they view the world. It may be different, but that makes it all the more enticing and enjoyable. The concept of YouTube fandom and how people interpret art plays a large role, as sometimes people don’t see the intended vision and find humor in something that should be appreciated. This scratches the surface of the mental illness discussion and the sanity of the characters is somewhat touched, but we don’t get to go past the surface with many of the characters and I think that would have added a lot more emotional investment in this film.
At times, Frank does get too artsy for me and the film emphasizes that it’s doing something artsy quite often. This film is also billed as a comedy and there are tons of critics claiming that it’s “laugh-out-loud funny”, which made me scratch my head. These characters and their little nuances are chuckle-worthy and some of the songs made me laugh fairly hard, but this film is certainly more dramatic than it seems. We’re taken for a bumpy and inconsistent ride that has a handful of uneventful pit-stops.
Frank has been near the top of my “must see list” for quite some time and I went in with an open mind and came out unsure of what to think. I can definitely say that the performances, Fassbender’s most notably, were quite amazing and are standouts for most of these actors. The music will certainly appeal to a specific crowd and for those who aren’t overly fond of experimental music, it’s still fun to listen and see how these songs are made. This film is fun for the most part, but it can’t help but show just how indie it is from time-to-time and I didn’t find myself connecting with the films messages as much as I could have. Fassbender’s absurdly great performance makes this film worth a watch, but Frank isn’t a film that you need to rush to go see in the theaters.