19 May 2015


According to a rather romantic account, artists and geniuses plumb the depths of human experience. They feel more than we do. They see more than we do. And what they find scars them. From Robin Williams to David Foster Wallace to Amy Winehouse, the great and the famous have a tendency for offing themselves.  Does madness spawn genius, or does it hinder an artist's ability to put in the hard yards needed to craft a masterpiece? Do inner demons stoke or stifle the fire of creativity? Frank firmly takes the "stifle" opinion.

Frank is a genius. He rants sublime over dissonant space rock (ft. theremin). He wears a giant plastic head always. Whenever his band performs without him, something is missing. Those around him write songs that are not very good. His keyboardists often try to kill themselves. Most everyone in the film is a musician and mentally ill, and over the course of the film, they teach the naive protagonist Jon that the illness gets in the way of the music. (Although I noticed the 'sane' characters--Jon, the bassist, the drummer, Frank's parents--are also the ones who do not write great music.)

There's a lot to like about Frank. It's funny and full of feeling. It's unpredictable. The characters change naturally over time and, what's sweeter, my perspective on the characters changed over time. It covers mystical, interesting, artist-related themes such as the creative process, insanity v. inspiration, art v. fame, etc. And its ending is happy enough to be pleasant but sad enough to be satisfying.

But some cracks still show. Frank makes its points with a sledgehammer: a clearly sad, damp, and uninspired dude has, according to his Twitter, an idyllic life. People filter their lows off of social media! And sometimes its points are contradictory. The sledgehammer flails. Rather than portraying Frank consistently as a curious, creative spirit whose sonic experiments yield beautiful success and goofy failure, the film oscillates wildly between Frank being ridiculous and Frank being incredible. It is black or white: either Frank is a laughing stock or he's improvising beautifully. The protagonist is flippantly hired on because he knows three chords, but later Frank and his band show every sign of talent and seriousness. The movie is awfully good--it made me laugh and it made me cry. And maybe it is a little too much to ask for consistency and flawlessness from a movie about a guy in a giant plastic head, but how awesome would it be to have a beautiful, funny, realistic movie about a guy in a giant plastic head?

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