If our priorities are remotely similar then you should already be aware that Michael Fassbender’s birthday was a few weeks ago. As a huge fan of both Secret Ginger Mike and birthdays, I felt a powerful impulse to celebrate on that cold April 2. I was going to watch Assassins Creed because I don’t respect myself or my time as much as I’d like others to, but the only version I could find online was in Spanish with Chinese subtitles. I then searched Michael on Netflix and discovered to my great glee that Frank, the exceedingly strange Lenny Abrahamson film that I had been meaning to watch for a long time, was available to watch. (Lenny Abrahamson followed up Frank with Room, a tone shift to say the least.) And thank God it was. There was no better way to celebrate the newly minted quadragenarian than taking a mere 95 minutes out of my Monday night to watch as Jon (a pitch perfect Domhnall Gleeson) immerses himself in the life of a band—erm—headed by a man named Frank who is constantly ensconced in a giant paper-mache head. Jon begins the film a lowly office worker by day and struggling songwriter in his parents’ house by night, but he seizes the opportunity to live his dream when the Soronprfbs (Frank’s band) lose their keyboardist while on a tour stop in England. The band then heads to Ireland to record their album.
Though I came to this movie for the birthday boy, I stayed for the ensemble. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Clara, a volatile, potentially sabotaging theremin player who immediately mistrusts Jon. Though she and Frank have an ambiguously sexual relationship, Clara resists the love interest role, striking the perfect balance between nurturing and infuriatingly turbulent. I was completely charmed, though, by Scoot McNairy, best known for his roles in Argo and 12 Years a Slave, as Don (who is maybe named for The Big Lebowski’s Donny). Don’s struggle with mental illness and awe for Frank informs our initial reactions to the movie’s bizarre concept, and his tacit acceptance of and love for this wacky dude convince us to, like Jon, go along for the ride. The movie is, best of all, tight. It wastes no time. The storytelling moves quickly without sacrificing character development, jokes, or even the music, which is kind of the secondary mystery of the movie (after the head, of course). When is it genius? When is it dreadful? Who drives the band’s collective sound at any given moment? The movie is odd, no doubt, but it is packed to the brim with heart, and a kind of reckless exuberance that makes the densely packed 95 minutes pass in a heartbeat. And my heart was beating fast. Because of Michael Fassbender.