When a movie you thought was all right but nothing special stays with you days after you saw it – in contrast to movies you can barely remember exiting the lobby – f it behooves the conscientious observer to go back and determine what exactly is going on.
We recently saw the movie Frank at the Nuart theater, a place famous for its Midnight Screenings of The Rocky Horror Show, and the unidentifiable detritus on the floor. The theater’s ownership has recently changed hands, and it is now less problematic in its personal grooming. The place still, however, showcases recognizably “out there” entertainment.
For those of you who are unaware of Frank – which a random sampling of acquaintances suggests is virtually everyone – what we are dealing with is the story of an aspiring, young songwriter/musician hooking up with a band, fronted by a singer/songwriter who wears an oversized, fiberglass painted head. And he never takes it off.
That’s kind of “offbeat”, right?
The thing is, I am invariably drawn to “offbeat”, unless there are decapitations or dismemberments involved, in which case I assiduously steer clear. I prefer my “offbeat” whimsical, and without bloody entrails.
This, to a substantial degree, defines Frank.
We witness the enthusiastic young musician/songwriter energetically tearing into self-written confections inspired by whatever’s happening around him – e.g. a peppy, up tempo “I’m writing this song…” – only to creatively falter by the second line, and exasperatedly give up. The kid happens to be on hand to see the band called “Soronprfbs’s” keyboard player being dragged out of the ocean following a failed suicide attempt.
After hearing he can play keyboard, “Soronprfbs’s” manager asks him if he knows (the chords) “C, F and G.” And when the answer comes back “Yes”, the kid is hired to replace the failed suicide keyboardist on the spot.
Hiring a piano player for a band because he can play “C, F and G” is like hiring an accountant because he can count up to three. Between the self-penned ditties that he never completes and the truncated job interview, I am already smiling, and cannot wait to see where this loony adventure will proceed.
Where it proceeds it to a remote Irish retreat in the woods where the cult-like band with its substantially more commercially minded recruit in tow ensconces itself for months to work on an album, the snippets from all of whose songs we hear are repellently and atonally unlistenable. (Though the band members of the band – with the exception of the newcomer – think they’re sublime.)
The movie’s structure is carefully follows that philosophy paradigm. How does it go again? Oh, yeah:
“Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis.”
“Thesis” is represented by the mainstream aspirations of the neophyte keyboardist. “Antithesis” is the band, spiritually piloted by Frank, who will only do music “our way”, commercial consequences by damned. And “synthesis”, which is delivered in Act Three, is a compromising amalgam of the two.
This “synthesis” is exemplified when Frank, now shorn of his ubiquitous bubble-head, offers an uncharacteristically tunefully accessible anthem, although its lyrics remain insistently impenetrable. You cannot tell for a certainty – or at least I couldn’t – whether this creative compromise is killing Frank, or if he has acceptably come to terms with meeting the audience’s requirements half way. A detectable melancholy in his performance of the song may be a clue. Though I may be confusing “melancholy” with “heartfelt.”
Can you see how someone of my nature and inclination might identify with such a struggle? Well, I did. Though my more “feet-on-the-ground” companion contrarily did not. Caveat: This companion, consistent with her selected line of endeavor is highly sensitive to filmic romanticizations of the mentally unhinged, a category this film quite arguably falls into.
I, on the other hand, found Frank’s trajectory to be less a glamorization of mental aberration than a “a whack-job coming to terms with reality”, which I ultimately evaluate as “half-a-loaf-acceptingly” healthy. Though I am admittedly not the “professional” in this regard.
The problem now is, days later, I find myself breaking into Frank’s infectious, climactic anthem at random moments, and have been unequivocally instructed to “Stop it!”
What are you going to do? The song’s gotten under my skin. I mean, listen to it! It is impossible to resist!
Do me a favor. Could you tell her for me?
Caveat Number Two (a personal record in caveats): To experience the song’s fullest effect, you may have to have experience the entire movie. Though it is still infectiously catchy; I am not backing way from that!
Thank you. And enjoy.