SXSW review: Frank

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SXSW review: Frank story image
By Cody Villafana

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did)
Written by: Jon Ronson (debut) and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

After heavy career defining roles in “Shame” and “12 Years A Slave,” a comedic side is just about the only thing we haven’t seen from Michael Fassbender. With Lenny Abrhamson’s musically skewed dark comedy “Frank,” Fassbender gets a chance to shine in a completely new fashion.

Aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) doesn’t have much in the way of musical or songwriting talent, but stumbles across an opportunity to play in a band. The band is led by a strange, but kind-hearted man named Frank (Michael Fassbender) who wears a giant fake head at all times, with the reason and true identity not known by anyone. As the band retreats to write and record an album, Jon begins updating on their progress and videos of their retreat on social media. When the band gains notoriety from its videos, they are provided an opportunity they might not be ready for.

With how talented Fassbender is, it is no surprise that he is excellent at comedy. What is truly impressive is how adept he is at physical comedy. Often flailing, getting laughs from well-timed looks, or excitedly describing his facial expression from under the fake head, Fassbender is able to mine an incredible amount of infectious personality and humor despite having his head and face covered. Some of the funnier bits also come from the absurd props that Frank needs to get by with the fake head, like long stretching headphones or super long straws to drink from.

The film takes a bit of a meta turn as the band finds itself at the SXSW festival. Austinites and those who frequent the area will recognize landmarks in the wrong place and that these scenes are not actually filmed in Austin. Still, the SXSW crowd ate this part of the film up. As a musical film, there isn’t much to write home about as the music is intentionally bad. Still, as Jon builds the hype of the band through Twitter and YouTube, the elements of being in a band and going through the song-writing process is interesting to watch even if the music is often atonal noise.

Tone-wise, “Frank” isn’t completely funny, but rather has a hint of sadness present throughout. Overall, however, “Frank” has a certain sweet streak running through its veins and is an interesting look at mental illness and seeking fame in the digital age. Though it might not work in every aspect, Fassbender carries “Frank” gives it a lighthearted touch that makes the film easy to digest. Besides, seeing him in this type of role is enough to make this film worth checking out.

“Frank” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

Grade: BSXSW review: Frank
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