Michael Fassbender singing trippy songs in a big silly head is loads of fun to watch, no doubt about that. But the first time I saw Frank I really didn’t notice much else. It did not occur to me in any special way that this film was a rather brilliant take on the destructive nature of internet popularity, mass marketing, and artistic hastiness.
Frank is hilarious, for sure, and has amazing musical moments and compelling character interactions. But I urge anyone who is interested to see it as other than just a rock comedy and more as a heartbreaking lament on why popular music and superficial, idiotic music are now so often one and the same.
The Soronprfbs may not make the most “likable” songs ever — at first — but they do put a painstaking amount of effort, soul, and suffering into the finished product. Jon’s entrance into their world is a fork in the disposal; he does not understand why they do the things they do, that much is clear, but he also has his values all wrong, and all mismatched from the band’s. He wants fast, assured fame and success from his music, that’s why he pushes so hard to get the band in front of as many people as possible. What ends up happening (minor spoilers ahead) realizes the exact fears of any self-aware, experimental artist: they sell out. Well, they come close to selling out, before the inevitable happens and the Soronprfbs splinter off into the believers (Frank only) and the nonbelievers (everyone who can see what’s going on). The superficiality of social media (personified so deceptively innocently by Jon) nearly destroys an epicenter of legitimate artistic expression.
Now, all of this is not terribly revelatory. Obviously Frank is making a point about social media’s effect on musical expression, I mean have you watched it?! Yes I have, and I got that, but there’s more, and this is what I have recently decided makes the film more brilliant than I had initially thought.
As a lover of filmmaking techniques, from the technical to the narrative, I find Frank an exceptional use of the figure of a protagonist. Generally, in quirky comedies, and in most films, the protagonist is the good guy. He may do some questionable things, and make the wrong choice quite often (albeit in an oft endearing manner), but he is rarely the source of other characters’ woes. Jon, played so innocently by the very talented Domnhall Gleeson, is as quirky and relatable as it gets: he attempts songwriting on GarageBand, tweets to very, very few followers about meaningless drivel, and understands just about nothing about anything. Sweet guy, for sure. And when he enters the world of the Soronprfbs, his sweetness is still clearly the good guy in the movie. The band gradually becomes benign antagonists, with Don being cryptic and Clara being downright hostile, and Frank himself being an absolute mystery, as well as all of them using his “nest egg” to fund their continuous disregard for any of his ideas. Clearly, Jon is the one we should sympathize with, right?
Frank is so brilliant because the turning-on-its-head-ness happens almost unnoticeably. Jon so endearingly suggests that the band express themselves to a larger audience at SXSW, and tries to lead them down the road of mass popularity, that you don’t notice his efforts turning unequivocally toxic. You don’t notice that his tweets and his broadcast of their work is what destroys them, and what fractures Frank’s own mind, and what ultimately culminates in an absolute embarrassment. You don’t notice because his social media-centric practices are so normal, and portrayed so realistically, that you know you would do the same.
Half the jokes of the film play off the social stigmas of Twitter, YouTube, and the like; we laugh with recognition as Jon adds ridiculous hashtags and constantly checks how many hits his videos have. So the realization, that actions so familiar are what end up turning the protagonist into the antagonist, sometimes may not even enter the audience’s mind. Frank is showing us, as meta as this sounds, that our own reaction to the movie is what the movie is warning against.
Let the Soronprfbs do their thing, don’t try to force them on the world or force the world on them. However we wish to express ourselves, that’s how we should do so. YouTube hits and retweets be damned.
Now I will undoubtedly be checking on this post, hoping that people have read it, and maybe even liked and shared it. I’m not so unlike Jon; but that’s alright. My form of expression is long text posts about movies I like, just like Frank’s is screaming into a microphone in Vetno while wearing a giant fake head. No one should ever take that away from either of us; it is our choice.
And so Frank is not some harsh criticism, it is more of an appeal for tolerance and understanding. Be careful, the film says quietly, don’t be like Jon, but don’t let any Jons stop you from being who you are.
A poignant, relevant message in times that need it. This is why I had to say, Frank is a brilliant movie.
— The Movie Watcher
The Daily Mail reported that French actress Léa Seydoux has signed on to play a “femme fatale” in the next installment of the 007 franchise alongside Daniel Craig, who’s back as James Bond.
Well, if Léa’s in it, it’s my favorite Bond movie. Final word.
I’m honestly such a sucker for fan-made movie posters.
Léa Seydoux - Net-A-Porter Magazine - October 2014
Photographed by Drui Crilly
Inherent Vice looks absolutely amazing.
Gemma Arterton - Toronto International Film Festival 2014 InStyle Portrait