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Indie movie problems: Frank is more of a slow bore than a strange shocker — despite the giant head

Alex Bentley
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in the movie Frank
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in Frank. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Domhnall Gleeson in the movie Frank
Domhnall Gleeson in Frank. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Michael Fassbender in the movie Frank
Michael Fassbender in Frank. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

There are “normal” mainstream films. There are strange, artsy films. And then there is Frank, a film playing at Sundance Cinemas that lies somewhere in between — though where exactly that is will depend on your perspective.

At its center is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young British man who dreams of musical stardom despite possessing only a modicum of talent. When he comes upon an American band with an unpronounceable name that finds itself without a keyboard player, he jumps at the chance to be part of something bigger than himself.

 The film has potential early on, but it takes its sweet time getting to any kind of point.

However, what that is isn’t entirely clear, as each of the band members seems to be at least a little bit “off,” especially the lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant fake head at all times.

Jon follows them down their particular rabbit hole to a songwriting retreat, a journey that will test his — and the audience’s — patience.

It’s difficult to know what to make of the purpose of the film. Having a man with a giant fake head as one of your main characters seems to promise all sorts of absurd possibilities, but director Lenny Abrahamson and writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan never really go down that road. The head is not unacknowledged, of course, but it’s also never made to be anything more than a slightly strange character quirk.

It’s the band’s music that’s truly odd, as one might guess from a group willing to employ Frank as their leader. They seem unable to complete a full song, possibly because everything they play is discordant and irritating.

The film has potential early on, but it takes its sweet time getting to any kind of point, making the 95-minute film feel much longer. Jon’s quest for musical enlightenment might have been more palatable had his reasons for sticking with the band far past most people’s breaking points been clearer.

Gleeson, who was delightful in 2013’s About Time, still manages to make the most out of his role. He has a quality that keeps Jon relatable even when he really shouldn’t be. Fassbender’s commitment to his role is admirable, but Frank ends up being much less interesting than he’s made out to be.

Other well-known actors like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy give good performances in supporting roles, but they’re not enough to raise the level of the movie overall.

Frank is not a bad film, but its peculiarities are neither all that intriguing nor all that bizarre to make it a completely watchable experience.

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