An artist, no matter what the kind, has a complex balance that must be maintained in order to be successful. They must harness their creativity and their talents in order to create an original piece of art but they also must eat. So being able to sell their art, if it be a painting, an idea, a song or a piece of writing, is usually on an artist’s mind. And yet making something commercial and sellable might hamper that creativity and not make it flow as easily as it should. Frank, about a strange artist who wears a big cartoon plastic head over his real one, grapples with this paradox in a refreshing yet subtle way.
Frank is a very gifted musician. He is also strange, complex and sporting a plastic head at all times. A young wannabe artist enters into his unpronounceable band’s line up and tries to change the artist and the art he is creating. He wants to be able to share the weird and beautiful music that is being created here in order for some taste of fame. He films Frank and his bandmates being weird and creates an semi-big online sensation. He takes this leverage and gets them into SXSW, a platform for emerging bands to get seen by new fans. However, Frank finds this type of pressure unnerving and is thrown into a panic that the wannabe artist is left to deal with after the rest of the band disappears. The wannabe realizes that by trying to make this band commercial, he strips everything that was unique and fascinating about them out.
The performances by the main actors in this film is what makes this film as interesting as it is. Almost every review I have read praises Michael Fassbender for being able to make a character believable while being impeded by a big plastic head. He is great as he is in everything he is ever done. He is our generation’s Robert de Niro. I do not say that lightly. Literally every performance I have ever seen of his, even in Shame, I have loved and realized just how great he is. However, I wanted to point out someone else who should have had a tougher time of making something interesting out of the character given to them but pulled it off with ease: Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Jon the wannabe artist. In a movie such as this he is the boring straight man who just doesn’t get it… man. He wants to be an insider but is pushed by all crazy freaks (i.e. more interesting parts) out of the circle. He then whimpers and is becomes the central wet blanket of the group. Gleeson tries a variation on this wet blanket routine that makes him feel more like a lived in character. His ambitions to be seen as much of a genius as Frank is constantly getting trampled on by everyone in the band but his belief in himself is unhampered. He continues to write music and tries his best to be exactly like Frank and yet he is missing something. While he bumbles through everything and is neglected by the band mates, he still sees himself as essential to the group. In other words he is conceited. He is not aware that he is the wet blanket, bland man of the group. He is not aware that he has no talent and true vision. Therefore when he fucks everything up, he does it because he believes that this is the right path to take, even when it obviously is not. In fact at a certain point, Gleeson is able to give this annoying and conceited person a sense of humanity that makes you feel for his wrong thinking. And it makes him even more gross when he rejects Frank after the disaster in the third act. Gleeson is perfect as he mugs his way through each uncomfortable situation after another all the while thinking that what he is doing is right and justified. He gives an interesting performance in a mostly conventional role.