Forgotten Favourites: Frank, Jon Ronson’s fabulous black comedy

Jon Ronson, who wrote the script for this fabulous black comedy, recently tweeted, “I’m always super-impressed by writers who can take regular people with regular issues and have their psychologies unfold in such riveting, slow-burn, ways.” He was talking about the BBC Three series, Normal People, but I’d argue those words are relevant to Frank, a shaggy dog story about a regular guy whose behaviour constantly confounds.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), middle-class, suburban and English, is a half-good synth player. Alas, he wants to be a singer-songwriter and he can’t sing, and his songs are crap.

Jon idolises Frank (Michael Fassbender), an eccentric musician from America who, 24/7, wears a fake head. If Dora the Explorer and the comedian David Mitchell were to make love and have a fibre-glass baby, the baby’s head would surely look like Frank’s. What lies beneath Frank’s facade? For most of the movie, we’re not allowed to see, because the filmmakers want to explore Jon’s head, which is bigger than it looks.

Jon is disliked by the members of Frank’s band, especially glowering theramin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a cultural purist who feels, strongly, that somebody ought to punch Jon’s lights out. She nominates herself for that very job when the gang decamp to Ireland, to record an album. In fact, she frequently assaults Jon, with a quasi erotic passion that Inspector Clouseau’s man-servant Cato would salute.

But Jon is tenacious. A social media addict, he uses twitter to get the band a prestigious gig in Texas and has lots of ideas for how they can be more “likeable”. Jon is desperate to help Frank. Suffice to say, if you’ve seen psychological horror movie The Innocents, you’ll know that helpful people can be the worst.

Frank is non-stop funny. It’s also out to make you blink back tears. Gleeson is such an under-rated actor and Fassbender uses his voice and body to throw curve-balls (even before the dramatic unveiling, at the end).

The whole film is loosely inspired by the antics of the late, great, wickedly whimsical Mancunian, Chris Sievey, who created an alter-ego called Frank Sidebottom and once played in a band with Ronson, though the music generated by the Oh Blimey Big Band wasn’t half as impressive as the stuff conjured up by Frank’s lot (the original music, here, composed by Stephen Rennicks, is ear-meltingly gorgeous).

What Sievey and the film’s Frank share is emotional confusion. The 2018 documentary, Being Frank, contains footage of a middle-aged Sievey, minus the head, looking tragically moth-eaten. That’s exactly how Fassbender’s Frank looks, when stripped of his helmet.

Frank was directed by Lenny Abrahamson, the genius Irishman who made Room and also worked on the first six episodes of Normal People. Normal People is the talk of the town, Frank sank.

But what a trip. In the closing scene, Jon finally accepts that his friend isn’t larger than life and proudly watches him sing a fragile love song. As you listen to the words, “I Love You All”, your own heart might just skip a beat.

Frank is available to view on Amazon Prime, Google Play Movie and YouTube