Saturday, September 6, 2014

Frank [2014]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review Article by writer Jon Ronson

Frank [2014]  (directed by Lenny Abrahamson, screenplay by Jon Ronson [IMDb] and Peter Straughan based on British writer/journalist Jon Ronson's experiences with Frank Sidebottom and his band) is a surprisingly poignant movie about a simultaneously shy and arrogant "alternative rock" musician going by the stage name of "Frank" (played magnificently throughout by Machael Fassbender, even as for 95% of the movie he wore, and spoke through..., a giant, goofily "Bob's Big Boy" expressioned papier-mache mask over his head).

Frank and his band who were so completely "out there" that one really couldn't really call them "avant-garde" (out-in-front) as that would suggest that they were actually interested in pursuing direction.   Instead, they purposefully _chose_ to "follow their bliss" to the point of repeatedly facing being kicked-out onto the street (for having run out of money) while _not_ recording (they were too busy re-inventing every constituent component of music -- from their instruments to their instruments' sounds, to rhythm and to notation..., to bother with actually finally producing something ...) and _not_ touring (they proved too depressed or otherwise immobile for that either).

Yet they were utterly sincere, convinced of their genius, especially of Frank's, and absolutely unwilling to "sell-out" by conforming in _any_ (even practical / even self-preserving) way to the world outside their group.  This is post-modern / contemporary artistic narcissism at its grandest / goofiest.  And yet, one can't but feel for this group, so utterly unwilling to step-out of its self-imposed / fake? (papier-mache-like) "shell." ;-)

The film is told through Jon Burroughs (played by Dumhnall Gleeson) whose character is loosely based on writer Jon Ronson [IMDb] himself.  Working a clerical job, but fancying himself a song-writer and keyboardist, he accidentally runs into Frank's band one morning while walking along the beach somewhere in Southern England.  The band's keyboardist had run out of the band's van and was trying to drown himself, quite unsuccessfully, in the sea while the police were trying to grab a hold of him, pull him back from the water and eventually take him in for a psychiatric-evaluation.

Watching the police chase the very much "gone" keyboardist down the beach, the band's apparent manager Don (played by Scoot McNairy) laments, "Well that's just great!  We actually have a gig tonight and now we have no keyboardist."  Jon standing next to Don and hearing his lament, responds: "Well ..., I'm actually a keyboardist ... but ... I wouldn't know any of your songs."  Taking a look at Jon, Don answers "Can you play C, F and G?"  "Well, yes."  "Okay, you're in!  The gig's at ... come by around 5, we'll teach you what you need to play."

Jon comes by the club at 5, meets the rest of the band, and of course, Frank, with his giant papier-mache mask covering his head and quickly realizes that this was both "a real band" and a _really odd_ one.  The gig didn't go well.  Half-way into the first song, an amplifier caught fire and über- volatile band-member Clara (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) stormed off in disgust.  A brawl broke-out as patrons at the bar, where they were playing, realized that the band was walking off the stage 30-seconds into their first already admittedly strangely-techno-sounding song.

It would have made for one heck of a "one strange night" story for Jon, if he did not get a call a few days later from manager Don asking him if he'd like to join them for a gig in Ireland that weekend.  "Sure!" he answers, thinking he'd be back home in England by Monday.  Only when the band arrives at a very out to the way "retreat" somewhere by a lake in rural Ireland does he realize that "the gig" was actually an extended (and really open-ended) one ... the group was going to record a "new album."

Okay, Jon's going to have to walk-away from his job back in England, BUT this was always "his dream" to be part of "a real band." And he could be part of their recording of an album.  However, as time progresses, it becomes clear that the band's "creative process" was a rather _long one_.  They arrived with nothing prepared, and spent the next period of time, "reinventing themselves," reinventing EVERYTHING (except apparently Frank's mask...) ABOUT THEMSELVES and their music, up to reinventing their instruments, their musical notation, etc, etc.  That period only ended, 11 months into the project, when they ran-out of money ;-).

... Or so they thought that they ran out of money.  Here, Jon actually stepped up, offering the "nest egg" that his grandfather had left him.  And though nobody in the band except for Don and Frank particularly liked Jon -- Clara, paranoid and generally angry throughout, thought Jon was a loser who actually had sought to insinuate himself into this band, and their French base-player Baraque (played by François Civil) and his girlfriend Nana (played by Carla Azar) the band's drummer, pointedly refused to speak English to him for those 11 months (even though Jon spoke no French ;-) -- they happily took his money, blissfully spending another year or so "on the creative process."  And at the end of said "process," Jon with some growing resentment, noted that not a single new song that they had recorded was "his" and none of them featured any more of him than him banging-out a few notes in it.

No matter, Jon _still_ felt that he was "living the dream" ... AND he was tweeting about it, and quietly posting videos on YouTube about the band's progress.  The result was that though the band largely hated Jon, it had actually gained something of a following as a result of him, enough so that the band got invited to the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, TX to play there.

But was a band that took two years to produce an album that they weren't particularly concerned about anybody hearing, much less liking ..., really interested in playing (or able to play...) for a real audience no matter how "avant garde" that audience would perhaps be?

The rest of the movie follows ... ;-)

I found the film to be a kick and I've enjoyed Jon Ronson's work in the past.  And I do think that the story does touch on a concern that we should perhaps have in our society today: If people really do all just drift-off to "follow their bliss" (with total unconcern for "The Other") does this really mark the end of society?

The band's stuff, no matter what THEY THEMSELVES THOUGHT OF IT, in this film was pretty awful.  And yes, they were free to do it for a while ... until (repeatedly) their money ran out.  But honestly, what then?  Is there still a place in society for "common sense" or will the bounds of society be determined in the future PRIMARILY (or even SOLELY) by economics?   You can do anything you want, but once your money runs out, you're dead?

Hmm, that actually was the theme of a recent sci-fi-ish thriller starring the musician-turned-actor Justin Timberlake called In Time [2011] ;-).

Anyway, a good / thought provoking if also often anguished film ;-) and though playing only "in select theaters" it's also already available for a reasonable price on Amazon Instant Video.

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