Lenny Abrahamson’s odd, willfully eccentric little movie Frank, starring the brilliant Michael Fassbender under a massive paper mâché mask, is a sneakily poignant study of mental illness and our desire to be noticed and recognized. It’s not until the final act of this bizarre black comedy that you fully realize what’s been going on, and the initial frustrations that you may have had with the narrative fade away because everything has come into strange but clear focus. Co-written by the team of Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats), the film has a tone that constantly juggles many dimensions, hinting at so many things and presenting a story that feels strangely familiar despite the odd visual flourishes and eccentric character beats. Domhnall Gleeson is very good as a regular guy sucked into a unique life situation, Scoot McNairy continues his amazing run of character actor work, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is all bottled rage and passion (as usual).
But it’s the Fassbender show all the way, with this most intense of actors giving a highly internalized performance, and even under this big, goofy head-piece, elicits empathy and sympathy despite being very hard to read on a physical level. There’s definitely a hint of Wes Anderson-flavored whimsy meets sadness that pops up in the narrative at times, but Abrahamson’s worldview and aesthetic style aren’t as dollhouse-precious as Anderson, and while surreal at times, Frank feels very much rooted in the here and now. James Mather’s sharp cinematography never calls massive attention to itself, while the extremely fluid editing by Nathan Nugent keeps a pace that feels almost dreamlike at times; this film has an internal rhythm that’s very hard to accurately describe. And of course, for a movie about music, the tunes heard all throughout are excellent, with an offbeat, punkish spirit that feels perfectly suited to the fragile story. I can almost guarantee you that you’ve never seen a music-movie quite like this one.