A brilliant, ramshackle, barely functioning band, they are built around the eponymous Frank (Michael Fassbender), an unstable yet charismatic musical savant, who at all times wears a large, round fake head with crudely painted-on features - like Daniel Johnston hidden behind a cartoon smile. His closest musical collaborator is the forbidding Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal); part caretaker, part jailer, Clara is the antithesis of all things mainstream. The band is completed by Nana (Carla Azar), a Moe Tucker-like drummer, and Baraque (Francois Civil), a beautiful Frenchman who plays bass.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's something impossibly endearing about this band of misfits whose lead singer, played enigmatically by Michael Fassbender, wears an oversized, expressionless plaster head and whose members use a safe-word when things get too intense. Expect the unexpected in this extremely strange and off-the-wall tale in which music (to use the term loosely) bonds a group of creative types who see the world through their own misshapen prism of expression. As for Fassbender, it's a masterful performance, creating a tangible persona using only his voice and body language. It's bizarre, unpredictable and strangely appealing with a unique flavour all of its own.
Based on a true story, Lenny Abrahamson's film is commendable in that it depicts a truthfulness and affection for the characters, never judging or making fun of them. We discover the dark and edgy reality of the band called Soronprfbs through Domhnall Gleeson's protagonist Jon, himself an Irish misfit who looks at life and the everyday things within it through his unextraordinary lyrics and music. He looks nondescript and expressionless as he wanders down the street, his mind screaming out impressions of ordinary things. Gleeson is terrific - at the beginning of the film he seems like the oddball, but by the end, we have a different view.
Jon's introduction to the band begins on the pebbled beach with an attempted drowning and before he knows it ('do you play C, F and G?'), he is the band's new keyboard player with a gig at which he meets the other volatile members. They all throw things at each other and scream expletives. But it is Fassbender's Frank with the cartoon head that never comes off, that steals our attention. We might hear that Frank sucks liquid food through a straw, but it really sinks in when he catch a glimpse of him in the shower, plastic bag tied over the head. Fassbender is extraordinary as he creates a tangible persona of a charismatic yet tragic eccentric with set ideas about everything. He has a disconcerting habit of describing what his facial expression might be under the mask.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is hypnotic as the demonstrative and often violent Clara, while Scoot McNairy is droll as Don, who has a history of having his way with mannequins. Another band member (François Civil) speaks only in French. Meanwhile Jon has taken it upon himself to tweet candid videos of the band in rehearsal; Gleeson's grounded presence, as he describes his ongoing state of mind, keeps the film ontrack.
The surprises keep coming, including a funeral on the water, a sexual hot tub encounter, a stabbing, a prosthetic limb with a flower and a live performance like no other. About 45 minutes into the film when the band plays their music, everything suddenly comes together - or maybe we have just got into the headspace of the characters and accept whatever is dished out. The ending is another surprise - highly effective and totally credible. Like Donnie Darko, out of this extraordinary and unlikely set of circumstances comes a true gem - it might be far left of centre but it is full of pathos, truth and heart.
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CAST: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhall, Domhnall Gleeson, Scoot McNairy
PRODUCER: David Barron, Ed Guiney, Stevie Lee, Andrew Lowe
DIRECTOR: Lenny Abrahamson
SCRIPT: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Mather
MUSIC: Stephen Rennicks
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Richard Bullock
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 19, 2014