Based, loosely, on screenwriter Jon Ronson’s own late-’80s stint in a band led by the late Mancunian musician/comic Chris Sievey under the stage name of Frank Sidebottom, Frank steers the narrative into areas beyond biography. It’s a contentious decision, brave and bizarre, but one that Sievey would have no doubt appreciated. The important thing here is that Lenny Abrahamson’s (Adam & Paul, What Richard Did) movie is faithful in spirit, and for that we can rejoice.
Frank is a funny film, the band’s 11-month(!) recording stint in Ireland proving a creative maelstrom that’s all maelstrom and little creativity. Through it all, Jon blogs and tweets inanely jocular banalities to an ever-growing following while Frank never removes his head (not even in the shower) and instead vocalises his emotions and facial expressions to the nonplussed band: “Big, non-threatening grin”; “Lips pushed together, as if to say ‘Enough frivolity’.”
Not that explanation is needed, for Fassbender’s faceless performance offers a masterclass in body language, and that wide-eyed, open-mouthed mask invites band members, and viewers, to project their own readings.
The third act is more conventional, with a chaotic road trip to America proving neither as interesting nor as compelling as the spiky material that came before. But Ronson and Abrahamson keep their heads to offer a perfectly judged, moving finale, and they have plenty to say about public image and the popular myth of creative genius being born of personal torment.
A glorious curveball: surreal, abstract, laugh-out-loud funny and quietly moving. And the ‘tunes’ – performed live by the cast and sung by Fassbender – are a knockout.