Film review of the absurdist comedy about a useless but ambitious musician who finds he has bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric group. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson. 95 mins. Runaway Fridge/Element Pictures/Film 4/Indie Production. (15)
Jon (Gleeson), a young wannabe musician, discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Fassbender).
Review, by Jason Day
Odd, odder, oddest, certainly the only adjectives one could use to describe this satirical musical odyssey co-written by off-centre, off-the-planet documentary maestro Ronson, the man behind the books The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test.
Ronson revels in exploring and analysing in the most admirable of non-judgemental fashions the careers, interests and behaviour of distinctly abnormal, or ‘unique’ people, focusing on conspiracy theorists or people labelled as extremists. The band in Frank could be seen to continue in this vein, featuring a collective of musical extremists of varying degrees of awful pretentiousness.
Ronson and co-writer Straughan (his collaborator on the script for the film version of The Men Who…) take much pleasure in skewering with aplomb the lofty art-spirations of a morbidly self-absorbed group of electro-grunge rockers whose self-aware melancholy is at suicidally hilarious odds with their desire for an almost martyr like anonymity.
Holing up in a remote Irish holiday home to record a revolutionary experimental album, they spend most of their first few weeks recording and collating a catalogue of sounds, such as water being poured into a bucket by a stream and pulling plastic straws up and down. When cabin fever starts to se in anger flares, they scream ‘Chinchilla!’, jump around and hug each other.
Their songs contain nothing more than words plucked randomly from the ether, belying the ‘seriousness’ of the mystique they wish to promulgate. Their first song contains references to chickens, ‘Put your arms around me…Itchy britches, fiddly digits, sequinned mountain ladies’ is one free association caterwaul you hear toward the end of the film.
That’s not to say the music is actually bad, ‘Soronprfbs’ have a possessed, spine-tingling musicality. Until they take on Gleeson, a grasping, greasy, tuneless talent black hole whose sole skill is for increasing his Twitter followers as he chronicles this ascent into mediocrity.
As this parasite assumes more control, Soronprfbs become listless and ever more argumentative. Gleeson is universally loathed by his bandmates, disgust being the word used to describe him. Gyllenhall hates him so much that she even tries to drown him and smash his head in during a brief sexual coupling in a hot tub.
Fassbender proves again why he is the actor to watch in cinema at the moment, even though you can’t see his face for 95% of the film. He manages to command centre stage as a mixed up man who just wants to make meaningful music for the world to enjoy, but who has retreated inside a large papier-mâché head.
It says much that the film loses a little magic when the head comes off and we see the man himself. Gyllenhaal is admirably aggressive, sour-faced and wound-up as Frank’s proto love interest who plays a Theremin as if it were a Stradivarius. The runaway turn though is Gleeson, who revels in the deepest and most heartfelt rhythms of opportunism.
An admirable send-up of the pomposity and pontificating of such people, but perhaps a little too ‘out there’ to be fully palatable.
Cast & Credits
Producers: David Barron, Ed Guiney, Stevie Lee, Andrew Lowe.
Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan.
Camera: James Mather.
Music: Stephen Rennicks.
Sets: Richard Bullock.
Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Tess Harper, Hayley Derryberry, Matthew Page, Travis Hammer.