'Frank' Is Both Poignant And Entertainment In An Emerging Brand Of Dark Comedy

While dark comedies aren't exactly a recent advent in the comedic genre, I've been noticing a new trend in recent years. Instead of relying on jokes that may be deemed crass or inappropriate, or even simply shocking or peppering in dramatic elements, the new norm for the sub-genre seems to instead gravitate over lulling audiences into a false sense of security with regards to what the movie makes them feel, and then turning the entire experience on its head by taking a sharp dramatic turn in the final act. Almost as if to ask you what you think you were laughing at for the better part of two hours, and make you feel bad for it.

It's a surprisingly effective tool in such films, as it's a relatively simple way of unlocking emotions that don't usually come with most movies, yet alone ones that describe themselves as comedies.

Take for instance The Dirties, a movie we saw at least years Fantasia Festival in Montreal and made the rounds through most of the circuit, surprising fans with such a jarring and raw take on the touchy subject of school shootings and bullying. The movie could maybe even be described as a romp during most of its runtime, as the main characters exchange pop culture references and jokes. Then it takes a really dark turn, as we witness the main character go through with a school shooting in full. It's not glamorized or anything like that, but you watch it and wonder what you were really laughing at leading up to that point.

Frank is very much this kind of film. For most of its run, it's a hilarious look at a quirky band leader who wears a giant plastic head, claiming it helps him inspire his band mates and find his "furthest corners" of creativity. It's almost slapstick in a way, and it's even been described as such by the film's star, Michael Fassbender.

But before it could write itself into a corner, Frank changes its tune (no pun intended). It transforms from a comedy, almost into a serious take about mental illness, agoraphobia and what social anxieties can do to damper the creative process. Frank (the character), isn't a quirky guy who wears a funny helmet to inspire people, he's a troubled individual who wears it to escape. In a way, it allows him to be free, to create and inspire, but it also forces him, the people around him and especially the audience to ignore the fact that what's underneath the helmet is something that should rather be addressed. Without spoiling anything, there is some sort of resolution to this, at least the beginning of one.

The end result is exactly what you would hope though. Those first 80 or so minutes open you up with laughter, even if there are a fair share of darker moments, and that leads to somewhat of an emotional revelation, one that's impactful especially because after laughing so much, your inhibitions are dulled. It's a great form of filmmaking that's still novel, and Frank employs it masterfully thanks to director Lenny Abrahamson, as well as a script that's crazy enough to be based on a true story and a real person, but smart enough to fictionalize that person as much as possible.

But that wouldn't be the case if those first 80 minutes weren't justifiably funny. Thankfully, they are. The first part of the film follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who stumbles into a gig playing keyboards for Frank's band, the "Soronprfbs" (obviously), as they depart to a cabin in the woods in the middle of Ireland on a year-long quest to record an album. The band includes characters played by the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy as their manager as well, and they all have their own quirks and insecurities. Jon serves the role of getting them to come out of their shells, even more than Frank, as they eventually finish the album and travel to South by South West to debut their sound, where more hijinx and the aforementioned twists ensue.

The real meat of the film is mostly at the cabin too, as Fassbender and co really push some limits and deliver great comedy. It's a good balance between what revolves around the head, and what's due to the characters themselves too, although Fassbender definitely makes the most out of wearing that thing. It's hard to disassociate from the fact that it's him underneath that thing, but he does everything his all to mask it (again, no pun intended), and really, when you boil it down, it doesn't really matter either. It's almost as funny to imagine that it's the real Michael Fassbender under the head and not a character.

The fact that a lot of the rest of the cast is recognizable sort of helps with that. It's almost odd to see Maggie Gyllenhaal in a supporting role like that. Domhnall Gleeson isn't as well-known but he's more than capable as the straight man, if there even is such a thing in this movie. Scoot McNairy provides the weight the film needs with his experience needs too, but it all boils down to everyone in this movie being crazy enough to follow a crazy guy in a paper mashe head.

If it wasn't enough that the movie is funny, well written and directed, and incredibly acted, there's also some great original music here. The film's band is all about things like recording weird sounds in nature, but there are a few composed and well-balanced songs too, including "I Love You All", which I definitely think deserves consideration for an Oscar nomination:



Much like a great album, it's about the sum of all these parts, and Frank really comes together to deliver a unique, original, weird, odd and eclectic moviegoing experience that makes good use of a new trend in black comedy and really does its best to ensure that audiences come out of the theater wanting more and actually feeling something. That's more than you can ask of most movies, yet alone a comedy.

Frank gets 8.5 fake heads out of 10.

Comment 1
erinhill's picture

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