Review: Frank (Abrahamson, 2013) – Sundance 2014

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Because Frank has received a surprising amount of positive press, I’m beginning to feel that my opinion of this movie is completely out of step with what most people think. Therefore, I’m going to caveat this review by saying that senses of humor are very personal; perhaps the main problem between this film and me was that it didn’t strike my funny bone (or that of Todd McCarthy, the only reviewer who seems to agree with me).

Frank follows wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) as he joins the eccentric band with an unpronounceable name (Soronprfbs) for a protracted (perhaps year-long?) recording session at their retreat in the woods. To give you a hint of the film’s tone, the band’s lead musician–Frank, of course (played by Michael Fassbender)–wears a (some say ceramic, some say papier-mâché) head at all times. Watching the movie felt like spending several hours with a socially inept person who will persist in telling his bad joke and then, encouraged by your polite smiles, build upon it and build upon it and build upon it. My only consolation was that, in the dark theater, I didn’t have to pretend and could sit in stony-faced amazement as those around me erupted in laughter. At one point, my husband thought, “Will they finish their damned recording already so we can get out of here?”

Of course, at Sundance audiences want to like what they’re watching. We cut all the movies we see a great deal of slack because we know that these filmmakers are aiming to create something innovative, risky, or unconventional–to tell the story that Hollywood won’t tell. So I was chuckling right along with everyone else in the beginning as Jon’s Twitter feed tapped onto the screen. Or as he made up inane lyrics to everything he was seeing, the way a five-year-old child does. The mannequin sex jokes brought some shocked laughs the first time, but by the tenth or so reference, I could only roll my eyes. Perhaps the worst part of the film was the extremely unlikable central character, Jon. Since the climax of the movie revolves around his building greed, selfishness, and downright meanness, the story just becomes more and more unbearable.

Yes, Frank is quirky. Yes, it celebrates the outsider, in an oddly courageous kind of way. Yes, I did enjoy some of the out-there music created by the out-there band. But did all this a good movie make? In my final opinion, no.

Q&A tidbit: Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays the angry and antagonistic theremin/synth player Clara, looked a little aloof up on the stage during the Q&A. When asked how she came to the script she explained that, when she first read it, she said, “No, no, no, this isn’t for me,” but after a week something clicked, and she changed her mind. It looked like she might have changed her mind again, though, after seeing the final cut.

Acquired by Magnolia Pictures.

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