COURTESY MAGNOLIA PICTURESMichael Fassbender plays the title character in “Frank

COURTESY MAGNOLIA PICTURESMichael Fassbender plays the title character in “Frank

‘Frank’ a provocative, surprising dark comedy

Despite having a title character who wears a huge papier-mache mask over his head – 24/7 – “Frank” is no gimmick film. The dark comedy is a psychologically complex, thoroughly nutty, and resonantly sad story about creative genius, mental illness, social media and carpet fiber, and it’s one of the year’s top surprises.

Like the films of Spike Jonze or fare such as “Robot and Frank” or “Kabluey,” the story qualifies as a melancholy pleasure. Comedy is often tragedy with a twist, and director Lenny Abrahamson (“Garage”) demonstrates that dynamic, assisted by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan’s sharp, sensitive screenplay.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), an untalented rock-star wannabe, gets a lucky break when, on an English beach, he meets Don (Scoot McNairy), who manages an art-rock band. Don hires Jon to replace the group’s suicidal keyboardist. A gig in Ireland and an album-recording project in a lakeside cabin are on tap.

The band is led by Frank (Michael Fassbender), whose music reflects mental illness as well as talent and who never takes off his above-mentioned mask (picture a shell-shocked version of the Bob’s Big Boy symbol). Frank shows kindness and support to Jon, while the other band members resent the newcomer.

Particularly hostile is theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who maintains a strong protective (and romantic) interest in Frank.

Jon is clueless to Frank’s fragility. He also doesn’t understand the band’s disinterest in commercial success.

Tension mounts when Jon tells the others that he’s been posting videos of the band on YouTube, landing the group a performance slot at the South by Southwest festival. Frank embraces the invitation, but the others rightfully worry that the high-profile opportunity could prove disastrous.

Not everything works here. Clara, despite Gyllenhaal’s strong comic efforts, seems conceived as a one-dimensional despot, and viewers don’t get to know the band’s angry drummer (Carla Azar) and bassist (Francois Civil).

But as the story moves from the band’s cabin lair to the SXSW extravaganza to a glimpse of Frank’s past, Abrahamson delivers not just an entertaining ride through an eccentric groove, but a substantial tale that embraces self-expression, satirizes arty music, and treats mental illness with the seriousness it demands. It debunks the sentiment that madness makes you a better artist. It addresses how personal worth is equated with the number of Twitter followers one has.

Loosely inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the creation of musician-comedian Chris Sievey, Frank is an inspired character, and Fassbender, playing nearly all his scenes with the mask, acting almost entirely with his arms and voice, brings him to life. Whether Frank is instructing his musicians to squawk like birds or describing his facial expressions beneath the mask (“a welcoming smile”) or writing a song about a carpet strand, Frank could never carry the this risky movie were he not embodied by a superb actor.



Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy

Written by Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 34 minutesartsFrankLenny AbrahamsonMichael FassbenderMovies

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

San Francisco school teachers and staff will be able to get vaccinations without delay with the recent distribution of priority codes. 
SF distributes vaccine priority codes to city schools

San Francisco has received its first vaccine priority access codes from the… Continue reading

COVID restrictions have prompted a benefit or two, such as empty streets in The City. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Taking the scenic route through a pandemic

Streets of San Francisco are pleasantly free of traffic

Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina provide the voices of the title characters of “Raya and the Last Dragon.” <ins>(Courtesy Disney)</ins>
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ boasts full-scale diversity

Though familiar in plot, Disney’s latest is buoyed by beauty, pride and power

Most Read