Abrahamson (UK Ire 2014) Michael
Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson
Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 13 May 2014 Ticket: £8.80
Frank felt like a movie that began life as a pitch at one of those low budget BFI workshops and things sort of developed from there.
In the beginning is the Image.
Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is dominated by the eponymous rock group lead singer, Frank who is a sort of inscrutable smiley face head on a lolly pop stick. All image little substance.
As an image Frank is an eidolon, a graphic escaped from a children’s comic who armed with an actual body and a set of attitudes, has been animated and released into the world to expose the disjunction between his comic book immobile childish features and his pressing adult needs. A suggestive analogy.
As he energises his band, leading the musicians to their in the rural retreat, Frank rivets the attention of the viewer dominating the visual field of Abrahamson’s movie. Should you try to look behind the mask to ask what’s there, the answer is ‘not much ‘. Frank started life as a great pitch, but as the scenario developed the script had nothing more to offer than a laboured formulaic story rich in suggestion poor in actual realisation. The script tries to suggest Frank as a charismatic character, but presents the viewer with only a suggestion of this idea, ‘Frank’ is little more than a series of vague suggestions. But the image is great and to make a low budget BFI type movie image, a USP might be all you need,
Image is everything.
Abrahamson’s Frank is ultimately an empty vessel: image with no content. As such it is the product of the age and the cultural forces that have produced the advertising industry and the various types of youth subculture. In both these cultural epiphenomena image is the mirror by which the spirit is enticed into the promised embrace of new narcissistic relations.
Within a social system defined by insecurities the ad industry connects desires to products; in a world defined by the collapse of traditional markers of personal and social identity, youth subculture is a line of escape which again involves conforming self image to a more or less vague life style and concomitant values.
I am what I see in the mirror.
Frank is structured through the eyes of Jon through whose voice events are rather laboriously explained. Jon is one in a long line of ingénues, such as Melville’s Ishmael, who report back on world’s that are normally closed off. Jon is pitched as a wannabe musician, shackled to semi detached suburbia, and set free by the invitation to join Frank’s band.
The band retreat to Ireland to record an album. But to record an album they have to find an identity. which is of course what Jon craves most of all. The identities taken up and tried on by Frank are like ready made off the peg solutions. Taking a series of off the peg garments off the rail of socio musical affects, Frank leads the band through the Hippy trip, the Lou Reid trip, the Devo Land trip. Perhaps part of the film’s allure is its mechanical switch through identity modes. The film finally comes to the RD Laing trip as the prominence of mental illness in the group is taken up by the script. But the relationship of the the group to their mental states is ill defined. There is nothing proposed beyond the suggestion that these people are simply, ‘other’ ‘outsiders’ who have some how come by some process or another to have been labelled. But mental illness is Frank again seems to be part of the sales pitch: it is crass and superficial as evidenced in the Don’s suicide which (with its somewhat desperate contrived presentation) seems no more than a device to keep the plot cranked up.
The idea of mental illness is simply a notion put into service as part of the mechanics of the story. The script needs mental illness, so it is imported at no great cost to any one.
As nothing in Frank actually means anything, this gives the actors a particularly hard time. It’s like they are trapped in a music video that goes on for about 20 times longer than it is supposed to. There is simply so place for the actors to go gesturally or developmentally, so their only recourse is to cycles of repetition.
Domhnall Gleeson in his ingénue role of Jon flounders in a sea of inconsequentiality. He is simply left bereft by the script that demands him perform ridiculous acts of thespian contortion to keep his character running on the plot rails. The other member of the caste also suffer from the same fate with the script unable to provide them with either any recognisable continuity or purpose. This is particularly true of Frank, who is interesting initially as a sort of Warhol type figure upon whose bland exterior anything can be projected. Michael Fassbinder, undermined by the demand an idea that lacks purpose into which he can fold or against which he can react, ends up looking like he doesn’t know what to do, except to do as he is told by Abrahamson.
The use of social media lamination, Jon’s purported blog, face book and Twitter entries and his ‘secrete ‘filming of Frank ( how anyone at close quarters could film is a open question) are again the signs of a film that is lost and unable to see clearly what it is really about.
Conceived in the image, Frank is unable to find its way beyond the image. An idea with potential is lost to the pitch. There are a few laughs, but mainly of the cheaper variety. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org