This week’s Netflix pick of the week, Frank, is a British indie “dramedy” starring the excellent Michael Fassbender. Though Fassbender delivers an outstanding performance in Frank as the title character, his face is hardly seen throughout the film. That is because the eponymous character spends most of the movie wearing a giant paper mache head. While this is one of the aspects of Frank that makes it a quirky film, the movie is not overly reliant on this single joke. Perhaps surprisingly, Frank offers more than just quirky humor, providing a thought-provoking message that is not often seen in comedy films.
The story begins with an aspiring songwriter named Jon landing a fill-in gig with Frank’s band, the Soronprfbs. And no, that was not a typo. The band never actually says their strange name at any point in the film, so your guess is as good as mine on pronunciation. Jon plays the keyboard at their show and is offered a full-time position in the band by Frank. The band’s music, like the film itself, is indie and unusual. Jon and the band move into a remote cabin in Ireland in order to record music for their first album. Frank, never removing his giant paper mache head, is their leader and puts the rest of the band through some bizarre exercises in order to maximize their creativity. The other members of the band revere him for his genius and originality, although none of them have ever seen him without his mask, which they tell Jon acts as a security blanket for his anxiety. Eventually, this little-known band is invited to perform at the South by Southwest Music and Film Festival. Through all this, Jon continues to write songs in hopes the band will play them, but there’s just one problem – he is a subpar writer.
Jon’s inability to create great music, despite his hard work and desire, is what allows Frank to be more than just another quirky indie comedy. He is especially frustrated by his creative limitations because he has to work alongside Frank, someone who naturally and easily produces original works of genius. Jon has an incredibly hard time accepting Frank’s musical superiority. In order to grapple with his inferiority, Jon convinces himself that Frank’s inspiration comes from whatever difficult challenges he must have faced in his life. He believes that whatever horrible thing caused him to live behind a paper mache mask is also the driving force behind his creative genius. If only he had faced those same hardships, Jon believes, he too would be as great as Frank.
The film, however, is not so willing to accept Jon’s logic. The question of how innate talent, life experiences and desire to succeed all interact with each other is at the heart of Frank. So often in movies, we are introduced to the scrappy underdog who uses hard work and determination to overcome the odds. Sometimes, we see the naturally talented genius who learns how to live up to their potential. Rarely, however, are we exposed to a film where the character is simply not good enough. Yet, this is a reality in life far more often than other scenarios typically depicted in film. Fear of inadequacy is all too real, yet rarely portrayed on screen because we are accustomed to characters who are extraordinary in some way. This gives Frank a certain darkness, but it also gives it an incredible human feeling that enables it to connect with its audience. This, combined with the film’s top-notch acting and unique humor, make Frank the rare comedy with a surprising amount of depth and meaning.