Every once in a while an entire movie reaches new heights because of its final scene. That’s the case with Frank.
This U.K. import follows an aspiring and mildly talented keyboardist named Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) who joins an experimental synth rock band with the impossible name of Soronprfbs. The group is led by the eerily charismatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), who gives musical direction and mumbles improvisatory lyrics while wearing a giant papier-mâché head. The other band members (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Carla Azar and Francois Civil) regard him as some sort of misunderstood genius – a prop savant.
Frank is pleasant enough, if a bit obsessive about the band’s music. He welcomes Jon into the fold with a series of helpful descriptions of the facial expressions he’s making beneath the mask. (“Flattered smile, followed by bashful grin.”) Fassbender, working without his trademark jutting chin and steely eyes, delivers a performance of goofily off-kilter pantomime. When Frank bobs about during one of the songs (sung by Fassbender and performed by the other actors), he’s like a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade version of David Byrne.
When Frank bobs about, he’s like a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade version of David Byrne.
Director Lenny Abrahamson, working from a script by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, makes room for plenty of comedy (wait until you see how Frank showers). Yet the movie is interested in more than being a goofy gimmick. As Jon’s social media efforts begin to generate interest in Soronprfbs, including an invitation to play at South By Southwest, all sorts of questions come into play: What defines genuine creativity? How is it fostered? What is a Twitter follower actually worth?
The reason the final scene is so rewarding is because it offers an answer to these questions in the form of a transcendent song, seemingly made on the spot. In the subgenre of movies that capture (or at least artfully dramatize) the birth of beautiful music (think Once or A Mighty Wind), Frank is a stunner. Cynics might say the finale milks the fact that we finally see Fassbender’s face (he does work those eyes). Or they may accuse the movie of going for uplift. Yet if the latter is true, it’s my kind of uplift: rooted in reality, and still carrying a tinge of regret. The conclusion of Frank doesn’t transport Soronprfbs to the crowd-pleasing stratosphere. Instead, it softly sets them back into obscurity, where they belong.