What does it mean to be a genius? Is this label solely applicable to the Einsteins and Hawkings of the world; celebrated minds with international renown. Or could those without global appreciation still fall under the category? Why are the chefs of Big Joe’s Downtown Barbecue less of a genius than those who study quantum physics? They are just as, if not more talented in their craft than any person with a PhD next to their name. And which of us is qualified to determine exactly who is a genius and who isn’t? Is my opinion on genius somehow any more valid than yours? Perhaps all it takes to be a genius is to find a group of people who accept you, and your mind, for what it is; your friends, family.
These are the ideas that director Lenny Abrahamson explores in his new film Frank. Simultaneously a harsh indictment of the current state of the music industry and a ponderous thesis on the nature of genius (if such a title is even important), Frank has a lot on its mind. Oftentimes, when I speak in front of groups, the ideas that are so clearly formed in my head come out slightly discoherent and difficult to understand. I often ask myself “How do you express such intricate ideas in a limited period of time?” I feel like the same applies to Frank on many occasions. Its big ideas fail to consistently manifest themselves into a cohesive motion picture. Some sections feel disjointed, and character interactions oftentimes fail to establish the relationships that become so crucial to the narrative. Abrahamson clumsily utilizes voice-over narration to set-up the story, and it often comes off as false. The movie is much better when it shows you its ideas rather than when it tries to tell you them.
With that being said, I will stay say that the movie is still largely a success. You walk out of the theater feeling moved by the experience; maybe the route it takes isn’t the best, but the film definitely reaches a satisfying destination. Michael Fassbender gives a great performance as Frank; a character that could have ended up being very one-note turns into someone quite dynamic. Sure, he’s often very funny (his character wears a giant paper-mache mask at all times, what can you expect?) but there’s a level of pain beneath it all. What is going on beneath that giant mask of his? Without spoiling anything, the answer to this question (or maybe lack thereof) works on every level. The rest of the performances work as well: Maggie Gyllenhaal tries a bit too hard as Frank’s second-in-command, but her character comes as convincing nonetheless. The other side members of the band are all played well, with Scoot McNairy making great use of his relatively few minutes on screen. It’s actually the lead performance by Domhnall Gleeson that leaves the most to be desired; the movie plunges into some dark territory, but he fails to bring the proper gravitas to the proceedings. He more or less acts throughout the entire movie as if its an off-kilter comedy, and while it is that, it is also so much more. It’s unfortunate that he fails to take advantage of this depth.
The movie is about the journey of Frank’s band, and as such the soundtrack is quite good. Whether or not you think Frank is a genius by the end of the movie, you’ll at least appreciate his music. There’s a standout song that Frank improvises about a “lone, standing tuft” on a rug that will have the entire theater smiling. Like I said, there’s also some commentary about the current music industry’s emphasis on popularity and “likability” (the script has a lot of fun with that word), and while it’s on-point with its judgement, it really is just a side-note that accentuates the story’s headier themes. And that’s really the main reason I like this movie so much; it has a lot to say, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. If the movie ever begins to feel too dour, it will promptly remind you that, hey, this weird Frank guy is wearing a giant paper-mache mask. What the hell is wrong with him? Is there anything wrong with him at all? Is he crazy or a genius? Both? The answers to these questions are entirely subjective, and I highly recommend that you go and see this movie to figure out what your stance is.
I give Frank an . . . .
That means go see it right now!
So have you seen Frank? Do you agree with my assessment? Let me know below!
In other news, college is going well-enough, but it’s definitely keeping me busy. I don’t know how much content I’ll be able to put out there from here on out, but I will stay consistent with my reviews for the AFI Challenge. Thanks for your understanding!