Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleason, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Francois Civil, Carla Azar
Written by: Peter Staughan and (also based on his newspaper article) Jon Ronson
Running Time: 95 mins
Release date: 9th May 2014
Frank Sidebottom was a legend. Created by Chris Sievey, the papier-mache headed musician and comic was an underground cult favourite with his irrelevant songs and trademark nasal vocals. Writer and journalist Jon Ronson spend the early days of Frank’s career playing keyboard for him and Frank is no so much a biopic but an inspired by tale of a man hiding from the world while on the verge of being a genius.
Jon lives in a seaside town, has a boring job and is desperate to make it as a song writer. By chance, he meets up with an avant-garde band who are looking for a keyboard player. Jon fits the bill and turns up to play, where he meets the lead sing, Frank, a man with an enormous fake head. Soon Jon is invited to Ireland to make an album but as time goes on, he can see that Frank is more than just a strange, mixed-up man but a quiet genius longing for recognition in a world where the odd and different really shouldn’t exist.
The first thing to say about Larry Abrahamson’s superb comedy is that this isn’t Frank Sidebottom’s life story but a fictionalised account based very loosely on events that happened to Ronson. So we don’t get any of the Sidebottom traits. Instead we get an utterly off-beat, bizarre and often very funny tale about dysfunction as seen through the eyes of something longing for acceptance himself.
The pleasure that is had from this film is it manages that tricky balancing act of slapstick, verbal comedy and the downright random, while having so much heart that you genuinely care about these characters and what is going to happen to them Abrahamson, who made the brilliant drama, What Richard Did, manages to control the humour and with plenty of discipline, it makes for a much sharper, funnier and more appealing picture (Bad Neighbours, take note!)
It helps that this ragtag bunch of musicians are all as weird as each other and so when what we take as normal enters into the realm, he becomes just as weird. This is where the film strength really lies. Ronson’s script (with co-writer Peter Staughan) has created well-rounded, interesting characters, even down to the almost silent drummer, Nana.
The cast is superb. Domhnall Gleason, who starred in last year’s About Time, is perfect as the naive Jon. We see everything through his eyes and has enough charm to keep us on his side throughout. It is always a pleasure to see Maggie Gyllanhaal on our screens and she is hilarious as Clara, a musician with a few anger management issues. Biting and acidic, she is tougher than nails, yet fits perfectly well in this mixed-up world.
At the heart of it all is Michael Fassbender’s Frank. A tricky job to do is make us relate to a man who wears an enormous head but if anyone can pull it off, Fassbender can. Showing he has a real talent for comedy, you sympathise with him, emote with him, even laugh out loud with and at him. All the while, he comes across as totally believable and after a while you forget he’s even wearing that head. It’s a masterful performance and possibly one of Fassbender’s best.
While the film does lose its way near the end and decides to go down the more emotional pathway, instead to keeping with its sometimes dark, always off-the-rails humour, Frank mainly delivers. It delivers big belly laughs as well as plenty of heart and as far as comedies go this year, this one certainly is at the top of the tree. It may only get a limited release but I urge you, instead of going to see dross that has been almost photocopied from other comedies (Bad Neighbours, The Other Woman), see something that is truly original, truly heart-warming and truly funny.