Masked 'Frank' a delightful, oddball surprise
Frank is a road movie, a rock-and-roll movie, a movie about creativity, the nature of identity, the fickleness of social media, and a movie about a guy who walks around wearing (and never removing) a giant cartoony papier-mâché head.
It's also a delightful, oddball surprise.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson with a mix of Wes Anderson whimsy and Wim Wenders melancholy, Frank's hapless hero is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), an office drone by day, a musician by night - in his bedroom in his parents' house, where he still lives. (Jon's Brit-movie forebear: Tom Courtenay's daydream believer in Billy Liar.)
After a fluky beachside meeting with members of an avant garde and unpronounceable rock band, Jon leaves his job and climbs into the group's van, heading for a rural retreat where they - and their road manager (a very convincing Scoot McNairy) - are set to record a new album.
Frank, the front man with the wobbly orb of a head and its painted-on look of pop-eyed woe, is played by Michael Fassbender, which is the film's biggest joke. Here's one of the handsomest, hottest stars of the day, his chiseled features hidden behind a mask. Sure, any role requires that the actor don a conceptual "mask" - it's all a play, an illusion. But here the actor is literally concealing himself, and revealing himself at the same time.
Frank spouts free-form verse about "carpet tufts," "sequined mountain ladies," and "itchy britches," while the band - a couple of his-and-her French snickerers, Maggie Gyllenhaal as a self-serious type who plays the theremin with a faraway sneer, and Jon on keyboards - work up a jangling crash of accompaniment.
Not exactly Top 40, but it gets them to the South by Southwest Music Fest in Austin, Texas. And thus, Frank is divided in half by continents: the British Isles and the American interstates.
Inspired by the exploits of the late English musician and comic Chris Sievey, whose alter ego, Frank Sidebottom, performed in concert wearing a head pretty much identical to Fassbender's, Frank takes some strange, and strangely beguiling turns, carpet tufts and all.
Frank ***1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. With Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, sex, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.