Michael Fassbender in a giant papier-mâché head is less weird than you may think
First of all: if you’d rather hear me talk about Frank than read my take on it, I suggest that you head over to The Matineecast, where I was the guest in episode 120. Apart from raving about Frank, we also discuss a couple of other, related movies. And you’ll get to know a bit more about me, such as which actor would play me in the movie of my life.
Now, let’s move on and talk more about Frank. I have a few things to say that I didn’t quite get around to say in the podcast.
So: Frank is the singer of a band with a name that can’t be pronounced which plays music that is way out of most people’s comfort zone. He insists on wearing a giant papier-mâché head, not just on stage, but all the time, in his bed, when he’s eating, in the shower. Would you label him insane? Or is he just appropriately eccentric for someone who works in arts?
Creativity and mental illness
The movie Frank brings up the old question whether there’s a connection between creativity and mental illness. I listened to a radio talk this summer by a Swedish psychiatrist who had done research in this area (after being warned that it was a “cemetery where research careers start and die”). Until recently the general view among scientists was that the idea the creative, but insane, genius was a myth. However his research had proved this to be wrong. There was a connection. The geniuses didn’t necessarily suffer from mental illness themselves. But it was more likely that they had someone in their family who did it. Perhaps there was something in their genes that could get different outlets – either in the form of mental illness or in the form of creative work.
The answer this question in a way that I won’t give away here, but which makes sense and it’s great to see another film that gives a nuanced picture of mental illness, in the tradition of Lars and the Real Girl and Silver Linings Playbook.
Not as artsy as you may think
From the word around the film I had gathered this would be a lot more strange and artsy than it is. Of course it does look a bit weird to see Michael Fassbender dressed in a giant head the entire film, but you get used to it quicker than you would think. The music and the creative process of the band is odd, to say the least. However the main character of the movie isn’t the man with the head; it’s Jon, a young keyboard player. He’s an average guy, not particularly creative, not a genius, not genuinely eccentric. One of us. He joins the band by chance, sees their potential and tries to help them to get a breakthrough, but things don’t work out quite the way he would have wished.
It doesn’t sound all that difficult, does it? Despite the underground art appearance of the film, it’s got a straightforward story that is easy to engage, but still not oversentimental or painted-by-numbers. Emotionally it ranges from the funny to the dark and gripping and I laughed just about as much as I cried watching it.
Realistically I fear that Frank will have a hard time to find an audience outside of the small, independent cinemas, which is a shame. Give it a go if you get the chance to see it and don’t be afraid of the head! There’s a lovable person under it and Michael Fassbender is just as exceptional as you expect him to be.
Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, UK/Ireland 2014) My rating: 4/5