Movies » Couchsurfing

'Frank' expresses more than his blank expression suggests

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With a frighteningly blank expression, the title character of the British Independent Film Award-winning movie now streaming on Netflix, Frank, instills a childlike fascination in viewers who are as equally charmed and alarmed by his socially disarming persona as Frank's enamored bandmates (including Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is surprisingly engrossing as the ticking time-bomb theremin player, Clara, although she's cast in perhaps the most stereotypical role in the film). The basic storyline pivots around an outsider, Jon Burroughs (Harry Potter fans will recognize actor Domhnall Gleeson as Bill Weasley), who serendipitously joins an eccentric but highly musical experimental pop band and secretly documents the dramatic antics that occur on Twitter and YouTube during the isolated, cabin-in-the-woods recording of their debut album.

Burroughs, an unwittingly mediocre musician, believes he has finally hit the big time and can ride what he sees as Frank's whimsical gimmick to fame. What ensues is as much an entertaining and touching examination of troubled (or mentally ill) but tremendously gifted songwriters who tend to be antisocial – in the vein of Daniel Johnston, Stephin Merritt and the mysterious '80s artist who inspired Frank, Frank Sidebottom, aka Christopher Sievey – as it is a commentary on how social media exposure can cripple creativity and confidence. As an artist, you always think you want the audience, but can you actually handle the attention?

While members of Frank's band, the Soronprfbs, combat mental illness and battle each other to fulfill Frank's sonic visions, Burroughs sneakily and selfishly leverages the social media fame to get them on South by Southwest. Confronted by the horrors and pressures of mass appeal, Frank (Michael Fassbender) doesn't have to narrate his expressions to convey the movie's ultimate conclusion: Like a baby bird pushed out of the nest too soon, great art can't be prematurely forced outside the incubator, no matter how many people online already "like" it.

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