I was thoroughly charmed and entertained by Frank. It’s a unique, strange, and incredibly funny film that deconstructs what it means to be an artist. Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) is a musician who is struggling in every sense of the word. He cannot seem to write a good song. Is he just blocked or untalented? Every artist must face an iteration of that question at some point.
Jon witnesses the keyboardist of the band, The Soronprfbs, try to drown himself, and he is invited to be his replacement at their gig that night. The band plays strange, almost downright bizarre music (that I honestly kind of dug) and is fronted by Frank (an outstanding Michael Fassbender), a creative genius who wears a giant papier-mâché head, which he never removes. Frank is weird, kind, unpredictable and tapped into a creative energy that Jon simply cannot reach. Thoroughly mesmerized, Jon quits his job and takes off with the band to record their album.
Jon is the outsider, but he is also the only normal one in the group. Frank and the manager, Don (Scoot McNairy), used to be in a mental hospital together, and Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is violent and brooding. Jon desperately wants to be part of something other people love; Clara doesn’t give a damn if anyone likes them. Jon is a harmless, weak individual, but how normal he is gives him a kind of power, and Frank can’t help but be drawn to it. As Jon pulls the band towards mainstream acceptance, the art becomes compromised.
Frank addresses the casual tyranny of the neurotypical, how important it is for people that everyone else be easily understood, that the signifiers of normality present themselves. If Frank’s fake head were a gimmick it might be lauded, mocked or dismissed, but ultimately it wouldn’t matter much. That he needs it to function is what is disconcerting. Why? Frank participates in the world; he contributes; he’s not hurting anyone else. Why isn’t that enough? Why do we care? By juxtaposing Jon’s averageness with Frank’s soaring creativity the answer presents itself, and it’s uncomfortable. We all want to be special, but very few people truly are, and many who might be aren’t willing to pay the toll. The non-specials, the Not Franks, have no choice but to coattail, to usurp to get their share of the accolades, and in doing so they destroy what they’re trying to pilfer. That Frank manages to present this ugly truth without ever really losing its sense of whimsy and decency is quite an achievement.
No one in this film is the bad guy. Flawed humans beings try to cooperate, fail, and try again. The characters’ almost fatalistic resilience is the engine of the story. I was incredibly entertained as I watched them struggle, and I can’t wait to watch Frank again. I’m certain I haven’t learned all the film has to teach me.