Michael Fassbender is a top actor who can have his choice of roles, so it initially seemed bizarre that he wanted to make a movie where he spends the vast majority of the runtime with a giant papier-mâché head covering his face. However as I watched more of the movie, I began to realise what an interesting role it must have seemed from his perspective.
For a start it means he has to create a performance and a character with just his body and voice, something he does an extremely good job of. It’s also gives him a chance to play a surprisingly interesting person as it begins to reveal more and more about the man inside the head.
The big bonce is based on Chris Sievey’s famed comedy creation, Frank Sidebottom, and those who remember the character’s unique brand of northern comedy may expect something similar from the movie. However, apart from the head it’s not really based on Sievey all that much, having more in common with the likes of Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnstone.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a young man living a dull life but with dreams of being a musician – even if he’s having difficulty actually completing a song. Almost by accident he ends up playing with a band led by the eccentric but possibly brilliant Frank (Fassbender), who doesn’t just wear a giant head onstage, but keep it on 24/7.
Jon ends up going with Frank and the other band members to a remote house where they plan to write an album that will show off the group’s avant garde skills. However as the music writing process stretches out over months they become more and more like a little cult centred around Frank.
While it initially goes well, when the outside world begins to encroach on their idiosyncratic and rather surreal setup, the band starts to unravel, as does Frank’s mental state.
Frank is certainly a peculiar film that starts off surreal and somewhat disjointed, pulling you into the humour and peculiarities of the situation, while showing you why Jon is so drawn into this bizarre world, where for the first time in his life he feels like he’s part of something special.
However it’s not just strangeness and people running around with giant heads on, as underneath it there’s a strong emotional throughline that ensures that when things turn dramatic and rather sad towards the end, it packs a surprising punch. It also proves far more thought provoking than you’d think as an exploration of mental illness, especially the tendency in some circles to refuse to see the truth of the effects it can have on people.
To be honest I was surprised by how effective the film actually is and that it manages to find far more depth in its setup than you’d ever expect. From the outside it’s difficult not to think that the idea of Michael Fassbender in a giant papier-mâché head is ridiculously gimmicky, but before long it becomes clear that the film couldn’t be any other way. It’s a movie that looks at the way reality often isn’t how we’d like it to be and that if we obscure it, it’s easy to mythologise and ignore the truth underneath.
Overall Verdict: A bizarrely compelling movie that’s about far more than just a papier-mâché head, mixing plenty of drama and humanity with it humour and odd surrealism.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac