[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00JZO7DFC][/pullquote] Lenny Abrahamson’s charming comedy drama was co-scripted by journalist Jon Ronson whose yarn was inspired by his touring days as a keyboard player with eccentric British art-rocker Frank Sidebottom.
Sidebottom gained a cult following in the eighties for his erratic live cabaret style performances that veered between the inspired and the insipid. His most notable feature was the huge papier mache head with a cartoon face he wore at all times. The squeaky north west twang was distinctive too and it belonged to comedian Chris Survey who died in 2010.
Ronson’s story, and Abrahamson’s film, is not a faithful memoir of a sporadically successful comedy music act but instead a meditation on the creative process and the much vaunted thin line between genius and madness. As such, it is a flight of fancy rather than a biography, a fantasy that bears a passing resemblance to actual events.
Convinced he’s a promising songwriter but unable to actually write anything decent, office worker Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) abandons his job after a random encounter with a band on a beach sees him drafted in as a temporary keyboard player for a gig that night. The band is called The Soronpfbs and their front man is the enigmatic Frank who never takes his papier mache head off (even in the shower!) and never reveals his identity.
While most of the band don’t trust the newcomer, Frank takes to the newcomer and asks him to come with them to Ireland. Jon thinks it’s for a big gig but it turns out it’s a prolonged stay at a cabin by a remote loch to record an album. It turns out to be a long, painful and fraught process which uses up all Jon’s savings – but his relentless tweets and YouTube posts about the band and their constant quarrels and creative struggles gains them a big online following and an invitation to perform at the prestigious SxSW music festival in Austin, Texas.
They go but the pressure of expectations and the ongoing band tensions lead to things unravelling and Frank going AWOL. Abrahamson’s film is bittersweet and bonkers, an affectionate look at outsiders and the creative urge. It may be a fiction based on a real person but Frank feels authentic and Michael Fassbender manages to convey real emotion and personality despite having to wear that head the whole time.
It’s a brave movie for an A list star but he carries it off beautifully; to be a charismatic presence with a muffled voice and no facial expressions is very impressive indeed. Gleeson is good too as the naive but mildly annoying main character and Maggie Gyllenhaal is convincing as Frank’s protector and right-hand woman.