“Frank” is sort of two movies.
One is lively, silly and snaps along splendidly. The second shakes its finger at the audience for having too much fun, slowing into a clumsy lecture about mental illness being nothing to laugh at.
The fact that the movie attempts a serious message isn’t what hurts it–it would have been fine if the script didn’t inexplicably start to completely suck.
There is so much to like about “Frank.” That’s why it’s so unfortunate that it largely left a bad taste in my mouth.
We begin with Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, an Irish everyman struggling between his white-collar hell and his inability to write music. One day, his Ordinary World is shattered by a Call To Adventure in the form of an idiosyncratic band fronted by Frank, who never removes a giant head with a cartoon face painted on it (the utterly unrecognizable Michael Fassbender).
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a brooding, psychotic foil, telling you everything you need to know when she snarls, “Don’t touch my Fucking theremin!”
The band’s delightfully unhinged manager is played by Scoot McNairy. Watch for this actor– he’s going to be huge one day.
The performances are all untouchable, so there’s no problem there. In fact, it is the character-driven first half where the film completely shines. The scenes are quick, funny, certainly dark, but enjoyable as it zips along– you are along for the ride. You’re spending time with the band, getting to know them and their delicious enigmas from the perspective of an outsider trying to be cool — a perspective anyone can identify with.
The great pivot of the film occurs at the halfway mark with the death of a major character. While this is the film’s first jab at emotional drama, it is largely a wasted opportunity.
When the band finally and predictably hits the road with its Captain Beefheart weirdness to change the world, the film’s pacing grinds to a halt and any character development utterly vanishes from the rest of the film. Their characters are set in stone now, and they make no more significant changes. Suddenly, the film is all about plot, driving forward events instead of people interacting with other people and learning things.
Two of the band’s total five members are completely wasted, essentially acting as background-dressing, clad with a single lazy joke that “foreign people sure are stoic dicks, ammiright?”
While they where just as boring in the first half, it is only more noticeable when the lady drummer suddenly decides to have a cutting monologue out of nowhere when all the major characters have become distractedly stagnant.
It’s hard to enjoy the film’s latter setting of “Austin,” being clearly Albuquerque, with easily recognizable appearances and performances by Lauren Poole, Alex Knight, Abraham Jallad and Timothy Kupjack.
While pacing and the missing human elements are the most glaring mistakes, the major failing of the second half’s tonal shift is inconsistency. The film suddenly tries to preach that “mental illness is super serious and cannot be taken lightly,” and then flops back and forth in attempts at dark slapstick, all of which falter.
The film is suddenly no longer interested in poignant character moments, and instead simply drives the plot forward. So as a result, people begin acting out of character.
So I’m going to fix the movie for you.
Skip this if you want to see it, which, in all honest you should. There’s a lot to enjoy:
Frank’s sudden catatonia is utter gibberish. But let’s take it at face value. When the band is gone, and it’s finally just Jon and Frank. This is a wasted scene. This should be the moment of Jon’s cathartic revelation, of his apology for his mistakes. When Frank exits, it’s not because of Jon’s sudden petulant insistence that he remove the mask, it’s his inability to handle the reality.
Next, Frank doesn’t make it back to Kansas. That’s stupid. No, Jon finds the musical genius shivering in a pool of his own filth, again, bringing their relationship into focus. Jon discovers Frank’s Kansas home on his own, and, guilty-ridden and determined, takes Frank back himself.
We should get a better sense of Frank’s parents than we do in the film proper– as it stands, they’re just mouth pieces for awkward exposition, and definitely not actual people with wants/goals/motivations.etc. You know. People stuff.
There should be more emphasis on the line “it’s not the mental illness that makes Frank a genius. If anything, it held him back.” This should be the film’s thesis statement. But right now, it’s really not.
Secondarily, Jon struggles to find “his voice”, and mistakenly believes it’s because he’s not exotically eccentric or hasn’t suffered enough.
Currently, it doesn’t make sense that Frank’s parents would just let Jon take him back to Austin in his current state. And it makes them look even less like actual people, rather than exposition machines (Do they even ever move? Maybe they’re just adhered to their chairs).
When Jon takes Frank back to the band, the moment has to be about Jon realizing that Frank needs his music to be truly well and happy.
And when Jon walks off after reuniting the band, currently, this moment means nothing. He’s learned nothing.
Instead, imagine him realizing he doesn’t need horror and mental illness to make music. Connecting it back to the opening scene, with Jon looking about his day, scrapping for lyrics. Instead, as Jon walks off into the distance in the final moments of the film, he starts to sing in his head, “I once knew a man…. naaaamed Frank….” as he realizes he has lived, and has gained the experiences he’s been looking for all along; a final shot of his private smile as he walks into the rest of his life.