Unlike the Greek masks that are often associated with “drama,” the mask that Michael Fassbender wears in the film “Frank” does not have a frown or a smile. It’s an oversized, peach-colored mask that wears a constant nondescript facial expression.
The film mainly focuses on a mask-wearing musical genius and is told from the perspective of Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson. He’s an ambitious but truly awful songwriter who meets Frank after accidentally becoming the keyboardist of the “Soronprfbs,” Frank’s loyal band. Jon leaves his day job to record an album with the band in the Irish countryside in hopes of finding musical popularity.
Social media plays a big role as Jon’s tweets pop up from time-to-time. The audience sees Jon’s Twitter followers rise from 20 to almost 10,000 over the course of the film as he exploits Frank’s quirkiness and creative spirit.
Not content using only musical instruments, the band goes outside to record incidental sounds – a tree branch breaking, a piece of metal clanging on the ground. The resident sound mixer, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), shoots these into a soundboard as the band plays more conventional instruments. Their creations aren’t what would be considered mainstream or even likable. One of the film’s best jokes is when Frank admits that he wants to be liked by others, and he plays what he considers his most likable song – an ill-advised, wonderfully dissonant piece of electronic pop.
The band’s sound is defined by dissonance – chords, sounds and beats meet each other to create melodies that defy any sort of classification. This dissonance is ultimately the film’s most defining trait.
One character describes Frank as the “sanest person he ever met.” The audience later learns that the two met in a mental hospital. Clara and Jon consistently fight for Frank’s affection, but the two are eventually shown to be kindred spirits. There’s also an inherent irony when Frank decides someone is “weird” considering that he showers, sleeps and eats while wearing a giant papier-mache mask.
“Frank” is undeniably weird. But this gives the film a comic edge that few can match. There’s an undercurrent of madness to all of “Frank” that allows it to go beyond the average indie film. The humor comes from a place of great discomfort but also an amazing sense of fascination. Fassbender is so good at playing this lovably insane musical genius that the audience stops wondering what lies beneath his mask.
The film’s most likable moments were saved for last in a scene that is tinged with darkness but also wonderful and poignant.