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Sunday 22 October 2017

Is Frank empty-headed and other new movie releases

Michael Fassbender attending Irish film premiere of Frank at Lighthouse Cinema, Smithfield, Dublin
Michael Fassbender attending Irish film premiere of Frank at Lighthouse Cinema, Smithfield, Dublin
Michael Fassbender, right, plays the part of Chris Sievey who performed as Frank Sidebottom, left
Ed Power

Ed Power

Frank: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy and Michael Fassbender, (15), 3 STARS

In Frank, Michael Fassbender plays a head case – that is, a character whose head is literally contained in a case. Okay, it's a fibreglass head, but still. For reasons the movie isn't hugely interested in exploring, Fassbender's cult rock star (the Frank of the title) retreated behind an enormous faux cranium many years ago and there he has remained, hermetically detached from the world outside.

The premise is unquestionably novel, if not quite as delightfully bonkers as director Lenny Abrahamsom (What Richard Did, Garage) appears to believe. Frank functions best as farce: it is endlessly amusing watching Fassbender wobble about with that vast head on, half-man, half piñata.

Our introduction to Frank is via Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a weedy Chris Martin-type with dreams of wooing the masses with the horrible piano ballads he writes in his bedroom.

When the opportunity arises to join Frank's band as keyboard player he leaps at it, no matter that the outfit is so shambolically underachieving that it lacks a fanbase, record label and – most unbelievable of all – a Twitter account.

The bulk of the action takes place in Wicklow, where the group, a muddle of unstable Americans and sardonic Continentals, are to assemble an album.

Dispensing muffled nuggets of wisdom from within the giant head, Frank is presented as a screwy genius. He composes moving ditties on the fly, lulls his musicians out of their comfort zone with strange team building exercises that involve wrestling and woodland meanders.

After Germans tourists show up, explaining they have booked the studio as a holiday home, we see him lead the mother on a walk, hug her tearfully and wave the women and her family on their way – a magician capable of making people's feelings dance like marionettes on a wire.

Fassbender fires laser beams of charisma through Frank's sad, painted-on eyes and Gleeson brings the correct mix of innocence and incredulity.

However, some parts are miscast – it's never obvious what, exactly, Maggie Gyllenhaal's pathologically acerbic manipulator Clara is doing in the picture, while Scoot McNairy, as despondent band manager Don, skates across the surface of the movie.

The film, very loosely based on real life British singer Frank Sidebottom, builds towards a concert by Frank and his band at the South By South West festival in Texas. Here, the fault lines widen into cracks.

Initially portrayed as a zen oddity, now we are invited to regard Frank as a piteous mess. A scene in which he attempts to pen a pop song and fails horrifically suggests he's been straight-up deranged all along – Jon's emotional investment, and ours too, wasted on a mere weirdo.

Abrahamson is clearly of the opinion that he is dealing in profound truths about celebrity and identity but, when it comes to it, Frank turns out to be surprisingly empty-headed.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent
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