Frank is an eccentric musician who refuses to be seen without the giant paper mache cartoon head he wears. As he embarks on a pursuit of fame and fortune, he enlists an aspiring artist named Jon to join his band Soronprfbs. Joined by Frank's short-tempered theremin player Clara and his manager Don, the band move to Ireland where they set out to record their debut album. Jon goes about getting the band's videos all over the internet, in a bid to land the most serious gig of their lives: South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. But tension starts to arise as Frank's relentlessly mysterious persona gets increasingly more annoying, and he himself appears to be starting to lose his own head.
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While this comedy-drama is sometimes wilfully absurd, it's also exhilarating cinema, telling its story with conflicting amounts of warm emotion and prickly abrasiveness. Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) is known for keeping his audience on its toes, shifting moods and navigating sharp plot turns. And while it takes a while to get into the rhythms of this movie, it ultimately wins us over entirely.
Loosely based on the true story of English musician Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom), the film centres on the art-punk band Soronprfbs, which is fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a gigantic papier-mache head both on and off stage. While touring in Britain, he recruits the nerdy aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) to join the band for a gig in Ireland and then stick around to write and record the next album. This means that Jon must figure out how to relate to the bandmates, all of whom seem to have serious issues. Frank's girlfriend is the freaky noisemaker Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and there's also hapless manager Don (Scoot McNairy) and opinionated but aloof musicians Baraque and Nana (Francois Civil and Carla Azar).
Abrahamson lets the film play out in the same utterly bonkers style as Soronprfbs' chaotic songs: veering from subtle harmony to soaring emotion to pure chaos. And through it all there's a remarkably resonant centre as we take this journey alongside Jon, who is played by Gleeson like the obnoxious little brother we can't help but love. Meanwhile, Fassbender delivers a remarkably soulful performance from within that big head, using his voice and body to add layers of intriguing depth. And Gyllenhaal continually surprises by undermining her intensely scary character with unexpected expressions of raw feeling.
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