Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Let’s be frank…


Creating art is hard.  I guess I should rephrase that.  Creating art that you’re proud of is hard.  It’s really hard.  I’ve been there before, when you feel like you’re in a cesspool of inspiration, wading through these ideas that all feel false and feel desperate and feel unfortunate and the next thing you know you’re staring at yourself in the mirror wondering why your life has to be so devoid of true meaningful inspiration.  Then, by chance, you see the art created by someone else and you’re just insanely jealous of their obvious raw, natural talent.

But what if they held out their hand, invited you to join their journey and, in the process, you realized that inspiration is all around you and that you, like them, are capable of anything.

‘Frank’ unfolds kind of like that.



When the film starts, we are introduced to young Jon Burroughs.  He’s an aspiring singer/songwriter trying to find inspiration in his boring life.  He has no troubles, and for Jon, troubles obviously equal emotion, which in turn trickles into genius musicality.  Disillusioned by his inability to write anything profound, he finds himself putty in the hands of Frank, a local musician hiding from the world under a large paper head.  After the keyboardist for Frank’s band (whose name no one knows how to pronounce) is arrested, Jon is brought on board and immediately finds himself in an oddly dysfunctional family full of overprotective girlfriends and former mental patients.  But, this is art, and in this environment Jon has found an avenue to create art, to feed of those with raw talent (or so he perceives) and to openly digest that talent, and so Jon offers everything he has, emotionally, creatively and financially, to see his ultimate dream of fame, fortune and relevance come to fruition. 

But in the process, he could be damaging the very people he looks up to.

‘Frank’ is a very odd tale of two very different men who share similar passions as they navigate the avenue of their profession.  With Jon’s obvious ambition taking center stage, he almost rots out the belly of passion that lies in Frank’s own creativity.  These are men who share a dream but don’t necessarily share a goal.  Sometimes, we are blinded by our own passion to such a degree that we don’t see how it can differ or even damage those around us.


While ‘Frank’ loses footing, like in making these themes feel rooted as opposed to merely props, it does make up for a lot with sharp dialog, clever pacing and a rich ensemble.  While the film doesn’t always align its thoughts properly, it stages them well enough to keep us completely focused on the outcome.  The cast is really well formed, with the exception of the lead, Domhnall Gleeson, who is just kind of there.  He isn’t bad, but he doesn’t really do anything of real note.  The supporting cast is rather delicious though.  Scoot McNairy is like a moral compass who cuts through the film with a sharp knife, delivering a chilling portrait of emotion that hits so hard when his final scene comes.  Michael Fassbender acts through a mask with such richness, so much life, that his final scenes feel almost stilted due to his lack of oversized headwear.  He just exudes such confidence while completely covered up.  For me, the real standout here is Maggie Gyllenhaal.  When we first see her, my first thought was, “man, she’s aged.”  Her face holds so many creases, so many signs of maturity that she almost felt out of place in this sea of what appeared to be budding talent and yet it is his mature presence that anchors the film so brilliantly.  Her silent yet assertive concerns etch out a backstory and genuine quality that was needed to make this film hit the marks it set for itself.

‘Frank’ isn’t a perfect composition, but it is an intriguing one, and one that certainly rewards the viewer.


I'd give this a B.  It's solid enough, despite having a few developmental issues.  I felt like the ending, while feeling appropriate, felt underdeveloped as a whole.  I'd love to see critical awards for Gyllenhaal here, but I have a feeling that the award's bodies in general completely ignore this, despite the obvious bids here for Original Song.

20 comments:

  1. I didn't like this movie that much. I found it a bit wishy washy at its core, especially when it comes to Domnhall Gleeson. I'm a fan of his, but he just wasn't working in this role. I loved Maggie Gyllenhaal though. She's really been doing some interesting work this year. If you have the time, you should check out the mini-series 'The Honorable Woman'. Both her and the show are spectacular.

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    1. I'll do that! I've been a fan of Gyllenhaal's for a long time. I find her such a talented actress with such range.

      I guess I liked this one more than you did. It has some real flaws, but I felt like it was at least strung together in an interesting way, and the supporting cast really brings it together in most areas.

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  2. This seems like quite a different film. I am intrigued to see fil and make my own opinion, such as it is:) I always thought Maggie Gyllenhaal was under-rated. I think she has been over shadowed by her brother. I hope she never changes her appearance and start looking like the joker, you know...Meg Ryan

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    1. Poor Meg Ryan. She looks like a mutated Michelle Pfieffer right now, and it's a shame because she used to be so beautiful.

      Maggie is, in my opinion, far more talented than her brother, who has sadly had the larger celebrity status.

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  3. I'm jealous that you got to see this already. I feel like I've been waiting for ages. I'm glad to hear Maggie Gyllenhaal shines though. She's wonderful.

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  4. Glad you liked it overall man. I had zero expectations and loved it, so I hope I didn't overhype it. I'd love ANY awards consideration, whether it's Gyllenhaal, Fassy, or one of the songs.

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    1. Gyllenhaal receiving even a third place rank by some small, insignificant, Iowa Critics Circle would probably make my awards season.

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  5. That opening line is pure truth. Nice piece.

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  6. Domhnall Gleeson....I can't with this guy. He is kinda always there. When the movie is good it's not a problem, like with About Time, but when there is shit all around like in Anna Karenina....oh boy. I'm really curious about that movie - it looks like an interesting role for Fassbender and I heard the film is very funny.

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    1. Domhnall is NOT his father, Brendan, who is rather incredible.

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  7. Favorite Gyllenhaal performance in 8 years. Favorite Fassbender since 2011. And I'd argue that the "stilted quality" at the end (which isn't the word I'd use) is a deliberate character choice. Frank essentially has extreme social anxiety or atypical presentation of agoraphobia, with the head as his coping mechanism. With it, he's comfortable, confident, alive, funny. But remove it, and he's emotionally withdrawn and very depressed. I responded to the last 5-10 minutes of this movie the most probably because I have so many family members with anxiety/depression issues. He gets the body language perfectly. Free-wheeling/electric/eccentric artist (with head) vs. the cornered, near-cowering animal (without). Frank at the end is deeply pained, shamed, and nearly incapable of the same creativity.

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    1. Excellent take down of the character. I now want to rewatch it with that in mind, because it does make a lot of sense.

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    2. I really like the write-up here: http://www.vulture.com/2014/08/movie-review-frank.html

      "We know, of course, that great art is often created by troubled individuals. But Frank isn’t quite about that — the art’s not particularly great, and there’s a lingering question as to where Frank’s talent actually comes from. Rather, it’s about the paradox of fame, about the fact that those who find it are often the ones least able to handle it, and about the small ecosystems of enablers and protectors and abusers and hangers-on that often come with art and success. It’s about all the nonsense — some of it necessary nonsense — that seems to bubble up around the act of creation.
      Fassbender turns out to be strangely perfect for the part. Not unlike Tom Hardy, who had to spend practically almost all of The Dark Knight Rises with most of his face covered, he can work wonders with his sheer physical presence — not just with how he moves, but also with how he stands still. Frank at times seems like a dynamo of random, freewheeling energy, and other times like a puppet, waiting to be moved — a perfect physical correlative for the push-pull of art and influence that the film portrays. It’s a beautiful performance, and it makes this weirdly sincere and gentle film memorable."

      I'd also pay attention to the first scene. Frank walks on calmly, then delivers this spastic, fluttery performance. He's in his element, everything and everyone around him working. Then the band combusts...and he doesn't know how to react, just stands still, staring at Jon, until Gyllenhaal marches him off stage. This is another example of a small "shut down" and prefigures the scene on stage at SXSW.

      Is this a great performance? I don't know, because he's denied at least 50% of what I'd consider the tools of a cinematic performance (the face). This isn't even like Scarlett Johanssen's perf in Her, because she's allowed cascades of highly emotional dialogue to develop a character.

      I do think it's a very, very carefully calibrated and conceived performance. He had every opportunity to go as outlandishly physical as he did in 12 Years a Slave, but Frank isn't really a cartoonish character despite his cartoonish head. Or maybe he's cartoonish in an approriate way? It's very tonally assured work.

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    3. Wow, now I really feel the need to rewatch. Great ink, and nice exploration of that ink. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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  8. It's not the type of performance that registers for everyone, because yeah, the eyes/face are really the window into a character. And Gyllenhaal is absolutely a comic firecracker, nailing every line she's got. No issue with anyone who vastly prefers her.

    But I do think it's interesting that this performance from Fassbender has got some really serious fans. Manohla and Tony Scott from the NYTimes didn't care for his work in Shame at all, but really dig him in this. As does Anthony Lane from The New Yorker, who outright stated that this is more revealing work.

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    1. It's a very complex performance, which I noticed as well, even if I found the climax slightly off key with the rest of the film. I think the main reason it didn't work for me was because it felt so abrupt and if maybe it had extended the finale a bit more to flesh out that side of Frank it would have worked better for me, but then again if they had done that it could have damaged the flow of the film.

      So, I should watch this again :-P

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  9. Oh, I definitely agree with that. I think the intention was for the audience to have just as much of an abrupt "faced-with-reality" moment as Jon. The movie is supposed to be about his learning/growing up process. The problem is that our alignment is fully with the kooks.

    I honestly would have preferred to see a lot more of the weirdly symbiotic, tender relationship between Frank and Clara. They seem like people who can't function without each other. Her ferocity balances (and allows) his positivity.

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    1. I wholly agree with your second paragraph!

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