I was drawn to Frank by its seemingly quirk-driven premise of a main character who never removes a giant papier-mâché head placed over his real head. It seemed gimmicky, but the reviews from the film’s theatrical run were quite positive, so I thought I’d give the film a shot. And frankly, this film is much more than I was expecting it to be. Part comedy and part cultural critique, Frank starts off in pretty mundane waters, only to reveal itself as one of the most profound films of the year.
The film’s ostensible main character is Jon, an aspiring musician who can’t seem to write anything more than a couple of jingly lines at a time. He stumbles across a strange band with an unpronounceable name: Soronprfbs, full of eclectic characters, the most notable of which is Frank, the film’s aforementioned selling point. After witnessing the attempted self-drowning by the band’s keyboardist, Jon volunteers his services to the band of misfits, and from there is whisked away to a remote location to help record the band’s first album. This portion of the film plays like your fairly standard fish-out-of-water comedy, with Jon acting as the straight-man to the Frank-idolizing producer, a violently hateful theremin player, and, of course, the creative visionary himself, Frank.
The film has a very deadpan sense of humor, placing the story's bizarre circumstances on display without any sort of wink or acknowledgement that these are intentional jokes. And yet, that’s part of the film’s narrative genius. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that not everything is as clear cut as the initial premise would suggest. The comedy becomes less and less prevalent, and eventually the film becomes a full-on message piece about the freak show fame that our society gives to those with mental illness based purely on their extraordinary quirks.
I don’t want to give too many of the film’s later plot points away, but the most important and fantastic part of this film is the narrative gut-punch it delivers in the final third. Essentially, events transpire that recontextualize everything that came before, and it becomes blatantly clear that we as the audience have been party to the victimization of one of the characters. See, the film takes a pretty hard stance on how popular culture views mental illness and disability as a fundamental aspect to creative genius, and whereas the first part of the film seems to indulge that ideology, the latter portion makes it gut-wrenchingly clear that this is not the case. If anything, we as a culture enable harmful pathologies by labeling them as the hallmark of the artistic savant, and this film wants to make sure you recognize how you and everyone else are part of the problem.
It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the surprise, but I would be remiss to not mention that Michael Fassbender is fantastic as the titular Frank, creating a complex and likeable character without being able to use facial expression to convey emotion. It’s superbly done, and proves that Fassbender is one of the acting greats of our time. And that greatness is reflective of the film as a whole. This film is not only an enjoyable one, but also a very important one with its novel message presented through a brilliant narrative twist. This is one of my favorite films so far this year, so I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a smart and poignant flick that will likely be overlooked come awards season.
Know any other brilliant films that have flown under the radar? Share your favorites in the comments below.