Michael Fassbender plays Frank Sidebottom in story of musical chaos and mental instability that's often both hilarious and moving
Hiding Michael Fassbender's striking mug inside a papier-mâché Frank Sidebottom head for potentially an entire movie might seem like a crime against handsomeness. Instead, it's the appealing centre of the fourth feature from versatile Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Garage), with a script penned by journalist Jon Ronson. Loosely based on Ronson's own experiences of gigging with Sidebottom, Frank is a story of musical chaos and mental instability that's often hilarious and ultimately really quite moving.
Domhnall Gleeson is excellently employed as Jon, a wannabe musician saddled with an ordinary job whose lack of talent is evident from his hapless attempts to compose a song. If he doesn't seem deserving of a career in the music industry, fate decides otherwise: a chance encounter at the seafront with a volatile avant-garde band with an unpronounceable name, whose keyboardist is trying to drown himself, sees him recruited as the replacement.
Unfortunately Soronprfbs are a difficult bunch: there's the magnificently furious Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the unpredictable Don (Scoot McNairy) but most striking is frontman Frank (Fassbender) who permanently sports the aforementioned fake head. They're as much cult as band, with Frank their leader; a retreat to Ireland sees the musical notation system rewritten, alongside the creation of violent learning exercises.
Frank is a peculiar pleasure, furiously funny from the start before drifting seamlessly into more sorrowful territory. Fassbender delivers a highly sympathetic performance that skilfully captures the troubled singer's many moods: remarkable given the obvious constraint. Abrahamson adds considerable bounce to a story with more than its fair share of darkness and Ronson's first screenplay (written with Peter Straughan) shows great insight into the eccentricities and frustrations of the creative process. Like its titular showman, Frank is charmingly, even heroically unconventional: an absolute one-off.
Limited release from Thu 8 May.