January is unofficially known as a cinematic “dumping ground” — the post-holiday, pre-Oscar lull when Hollywood studios release the movies that wouldn’t have a chance in any other month of the year. Fortunately, Netflix has plenty of options that are worthier of your time thanMortdecai or Strange Magic. All month, we’ll be counting down streaming movies ranked 90 percent or higher on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. This week: Frank.
What would you give up for a shot at your dream — and if you went for it, what would you become along the way? That’s the question the opens the indie musical dramedy Frank, when by sheer fluke, a middling keyboardist named Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) is invited to join an experimental band called The Soronprfbs as they embark on a creative retreat at an isolated cabin in an effort to record their first album. The process is lengthy, bizarre, and absurdly unfocused, but that’s only a reflection of the band’s frontman, Frank — an offbeat musical genius who never removes the oversized papier-mâché head he wears over his own head:
As Jon rises to a more prominent role within the band, he realizes what none of its other members have capitalized on: Frank’s eccentricities are the perfect marketing hook. Jon starts surreptitiously filming the band’s recording sessions, and it’s not long before The Soronprfbs are invited to play a show for an audience of eager hipsters at South by Southwest.
Frank was widely marketed as a black comedy — and it is, indeed, often hilarious — but this is also a movie with much more on its mind than your average feel-good quirkfest. Frank's relatively light-hearted first hour gives way to an extended epilogue that raises thoughtful questions about everything from the connection between genius and mental illness to what it takes to become a successful musician in the modern world:
As Frank, Michael Fassbender delivers a charming and empathetic performance, boldly concealing the wide grin and chiseled good looks that have made him one of Hollywood’s hottest actors. But despite the film’s title, the real arc belongs to Domnhall Gleason, whose Jon is the Salieri to Frank’s Mozart. Though he spends virtually every waking moment trying and failing to create music — and sacrifices his job, his bank account, and his dignity in the process — he refuses to realize that he’s simply not talented enough to play on Frank’s level. Jon’s intentions are built on a complicated mishmash of motivations, ranging from a genuine belief that Frank’s talents should be recognized to an obsession with being a famous rock star. Frank, by contrast, is simple: he creates music because he finds it in everything.
In just 90 minutes, Frank manages to tell a story that affirms both the joy and the pain of creating art. Watch it this weekend, and become yet another person to fall under Frank’s spell.