SXSW Film Review: 'Frank'

Michael Fassbender rewrites an icon of British outsider art

Some say it's a thin line between untrammeled creativity and madness. But what if the difference is just context?

Take Frank (Michael Fassbender). If he wore a giant plastic head, and worked as a welder, he'd be seeing a shrink in minutes. But within his weird art collective/avant garde pop band, he's a genius tinkerer with sound. And a giant plastic head.

There was a real Frank – British oddball Frank Sidebottom, a loopy cousin to equally mysterious bands like the Residents. Based loosely on an autobiographical article by Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats) about his time in Sidebottom's band, Frank is a Gondry-esque meditation on commerce, art, and the self-destructive nature of outlandish creativity. Most importantly, it's about the perils of not understanding the delicacy of genius. The script, co-written with Peter Straughan, makes the Ronson analog Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) the real menace, as his fannish and well-intended aspirations to genius – and to misguidedly unwrap the mystery of Frank – threaten to drag the maestro into tepid mediocrity.

In contrast, Scoot McNairy as engineer/manager Don is the damaged hero, crushed under the burden of knowing he can never match Frank's strange genius.

Topping it all is Fassbender's performance, a work of fragile wonder that hides nothing behind the blank eyes and enlarged cranium. Yet there's a strange resonance for anyone who knows the real Frank's work. This Frank-not-Frank is like putting two black disc ears on a mouse and expecting the audience to not think "Mickey."


Festival Favorites
Thursday, March 13, 4pm, Topfer

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Ten Key Moments in Austin's Year With the Coronavirus
Ten Key Moments in Austin's Year With the Coronavirus
The Plague Year

Beth Sullivan, Dec. 18, 2020

Top 10 Arty Ways 2020 Was the Best Year Ever
Top 10 Arty Ways 2020 Was the Best Year Ever
Barbara Purcell shares art highlights from a year that tested our sanity and humanity

Barbara Purcell, Dec. 18, 2020

More by Richard Whittaker
Bears Rebecca Fonté Joins aGLIFF as Artistic Director
Bears Rebecca Fonté Joins aGLIFF as Artistic Director
Festival rebranding as PRISM for new era

Jan. 14, 2021

Robert Lorenz Takes Aim at <i>The Marksman</i>
Robert Lorenz Takes Aim at The Marksman
Writer/director on why Liam Neeson is the new Clint Eastwood

Jan. 14, 2021


South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW 2014, SXSW Film 2014, Frank, Festival Favorites, Narrative Feature, Lenny Abrahamson, Michael Fassbender, Scoot McNairy, Dohmnall Gleeson, Peter Straughan, review, Frank Sidebottom

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle