A flicker of recognition went up as I read the film’s back story, how it was loosely based on the life of Sidebottom. I missed Happiness Stan. I was intrigued by the film’s subject matter, that of a kid joining an outsider cult band. But there were 2 deal-breakers for me (the second of which my wife shared) that led us to see the disappointing, airless Cavalry instead:
- I typically get bugged by the cult of the Thumbsucking Idiot-Savant and His Clueless Outsider Art, which too often strikes me as somewhat shameful freak-show gawking.
- I truly dislike the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was listed as one of the movie’s stars, and her Fuck-Me-I’m-a-Mopey Bitch persona possibly as much as I dislike her brother Jake and his Fuck-Me-I’m-a-Hurt-Puppy Dog persona. (I pray there’s not a kid brother or sister Gyllenhaal on the horizon.)
A few weeks later, Ladymisskirroyale wrote me offlist to recommend Frank. Ladymiss, as you know, is good people. We have a history of not often agreeing on movies, but she’s so positive and enthusiastic about the hope of us ever agreeing on a movie that I file away her recommendations in a bin better than the one marked STAY AWAY: THIS OTHERWISE STERLING PERSON’S TASTES IN MOVIES TYPICALLY RUN COUNTER TO MINE!
On my flight home from my recent first trip to England (more on the musical insights from that trip, when time allows), I couldn’t sleep and finally found myself poking around the flight’s entertainment options. Frank was one of the available movies, and I thought of Ladymiss’ hope and enthusiasm. I thought of Happiness Stan. I thought of you all and what the Hall has meant to me. I figured it was worth a try. If nothing else I might enthusiastically hate it and get a good post out of watching it. If nothing else there would come a point when Maggie Gyllenhaal would get angrily fucked.
I won’t give away what for me was an early plot twist, but as the film started I feared I’d quickly be overwhelm by Deal Breaker #1: the cult of the Thumbsucking Idiot-Savant and His Clueless Outsider Art. The movie character Frank’s musical act wasn’t anything to write home over. Plus, the mysterious Frank, in his papier-mâché head, was quickly being built up as a genius among his misfit toys band mates. I prefer the myth of the man among men, the genius among highly competent peers. Frank was being built up as King Shit on Poop Hill. I began squirming in my airplane seat.
What slowly won me over, though, began during an extended sequence in which the band was holed up in a remote cabin, working on their masterpiece album, through the unusual, hands-on methods of its leader. Not knowing the ins and outs of the real-life Frank Sidebottom, I quickly recognized this aspect of the film as relating to the story of the making of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. From that point forward, the movie took on a broader meaning of the importance of band dynamics, band culture, believing in the band’s objectives, and all that stuff I love about my own relationship with music. The one new member of the group, I realized, played the part of the journalist kid from my least-favorite music movie, Almost Famous. Unlike that movie, which annoys me to this day for its kiss-up point of view and serious sugar-coating of Big-Time Rock ‘n Roll, the tiny, hermetic world of the Frank film’s fictional band allowed for a more focused examination of band dynamics, or more accurately, human dynamics and their essential role in making any band possible.
Frank is about a small group of people believing in themselves and making something special of their collective efforts, at least in their own collective effort. Humor was sprinkled in at just the right times. The indie rock scene is presented in a balanced manner. The film barely avoided a few forays into distracting levels of rock ‘n roll fantasy. Best of all, in one crucial scene, the film deftly handled the issue of Frank’s psychological challenges. By the end I was hooked and felt really good about watching this movie. There’s hope for me and Ladymisskirroyale agreeing on movies yet!
Ok, this totally cracks me up because I’m not sure I’m the saint who recommended this movie to you! I think I might have said it seemed like a movie you might like, but given my track record of recommendations, I have been cautious in extolling the virtue of just about anything.
Luckily, we share an interest in trying to convert peoples’ opinions…
Even saints have difficulty maintaining a high conversion rate. Don’t stop trying!
Today a friend of mine (who is not a music geek) asked my advice on whether he should see this movie, which is coming to his local art house. I advised caution. I know Jon Ronson is involved, and I liked his Randy Newman doc (I Am, Unfortunately, Randy Newman). I think I might prefer a doc about the actual Frank to a fictional film obliquely about him.