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August 28, 2014

Movie review: 'Frank' takes a risk that pays off

With a fearless cast and a wacky weird tale to tell, "Frank" is an adventurous undertaking that celebrates risk-takers.

Loosely based on a British comic's alter-ego, "Frank" takes us into the creative process of original thinkers who behave bizarrely.

He died in 2010, but in the late '80s, early '90s, Chris Sievey was popular with a character called Frank Sidebottom in the Oh Blimey Big Band. He wore a giant fake head.

Such is the idiosyncratic character Frank, played with daring skill by Michael Fassbender ("12 Years a Slave"), who dives in with gusto. Frank never takes off the mask -- even in the shower. He's a musical genius, so his bandmates put up with his peculiarities, and they're unconventional as well.

Newcomer Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) is the keyboard player that gets plenty of attitude from tough-as-nails Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Frank's girlfriend, and punky drummer (Carla Azar).

The band spends 18 months in a remote cabin making music. You can imagine how rivalries erupt, bonds deepen, creative chaos ensues.

Jon wants Soronprfbs (yes, that's the name) to be successful, and suggests they play at the big-time South by Southwest Festival in Austin, where all the cool kids spend spring break.

Sometimes, dreams don't go according to plan, but the journey here is outrageous, quirky and courageous enough to enjoy.


Irish-born Fassbender, who is usually the most interesting guy in a movie (remember his robot turn in "Prometheus"?) and an Oscar nominee last year, delivers another bold, brave portrait that will definitely be noted at year's end, even if it's just the Independent Spirit Awards. Because his character's facial expressions can't be seen, he describes them -- a true stroke of inspiration and hilarity.

Gyllenhaal is her customary fine self, playing a hard-to-like edgy rock chick. Gleeson, so good in "About Time," is a natural likable presence on screen, and announces he has arrived.

What Works

Art is the cherry on top of life's all-you-can-eat buffet dessert, so filmmakers have thrown caution to the wind and present a mixed-bag of tricks with a wonderful spirit. They perfectly capture the delusions of rock-star grandeur and the odd ducks that are drawn to the music business, especially those who lean to the avante-garde.

What Doesn't Work

"Frank" is definitely an acquired taste, and those intrigued by the crazy ones who are inspired and inspire, will enjoy. Others may just be puzzled.

3 1/2 stars out of 4

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, Scoot McNairy

Length: 1:35

Rated: R for language and some sexuality

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