Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th September 2014
Box Office USA: $0.6M
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Production compaines: Film4, Runaway Fridge Productions, Element Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 115 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Screenwriter: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
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.
This is a fragmented film that continually undermines audience expectations, finding humour in personality clashes and generating big emotional responses even though most of the characters remain rather unlikeable. And in the final act, when the band hits the road and travels to Texas for a seminal gig, there's an unnerving kick to the story that leaves us with the feeling that we have taken an epic journey that will make us see the world in a whole new light.