Writers: Jon Ronson. Peter Straughan.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson.
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Scoot McNairy. Michael Fassbender.
Running time: 95 miutes.
This film flew through the cinema which appalling speed and spent less time on the silver screen than most trailers. I had been looking forward to this venture for a while judging basically on the great cast and bizarre premise. Suddenly and with no press warning it appears on the shop shelf with Frank Sidebottom’s face pleading with my wallet to save it from film purgatory ie. being stacked in between ‘Bad Neighbours’ and ‘Divergent’. I graciously did so.
The movie does a fantastic and original job of introducing Jon (Gleeson) a budding song writer stuck in an office job who’s enthusiasm is matched only by his lack talent. He chances upon the keyboard player of the band “Soronprfbs”, quitting in a dramatic fashion which will leave real life A-listing attention junkies wishing they’d thought of it first. Jon Is luckily a keyboard player and roped into the gig that night by seeming manager Don (McNairy). After impressing the lead singer Frank (Fassbender) who at all times wears a giant and alarming head, Jon Is invited to record the album in solitude. We then follow his adventures trying to integrate into the band as well as steer them towards a marketable sound and a festival gig. Jon’s main obstacle is the terrifying Clara (Gyllenhal) who has a deep belief in the direction of the band and has clearly controlled it and Frank.
Every year we have our ‘sleeper hit’ films which usually means a low budget filming technique and with a sense of humour so strange and ‘quirky’ I don’t no whether to hail the writers as genius or have them sectioned. This film prescribes minimalist budget and crazy humour like an over-enthusiastic back alley doctor but it has more, it’s brave and very well done. A lot of it seems fairly obvious, the story is quite straight forward and a lot of its humour is found in the way of the musical scene and the seeming pretentious creative process. Some of this is more on the nose than a Mayweather right hook (or that joke…) which can dull the impact, but overall its wit prevails. The formulation of the album is like contemporary music students on speed in the big brother house but is fascinating to watch as Jon Tries to decipher whether Frank is a genius or a madman and tries to be pushed to his “deepest creative corners”.
The music is fitting and hardly noticed so does it’s job fine without blowing you away and the camera shots are nice and simple without being over the top needlessly. Any angles or effects from the camera would detach the viewer from a deliberately claustrophobic experience so the straightforward approach actually benefits the story.
Jon also walks the well trodden path of social media as he updates the public and us on his thoughts through twitter and attempts to fish out some precious nuggets of fame from ever turbulent waters of YouTube. All to the disgust of Clara. This leads to a neat tug of war as Frank tries to decide whether to embrace the sweet limelight or keep moving in the unique direction of his bands unusual and expressive sound. The messages of musical creativity, uncovering the enigma of celebrities and social media have been done before and that horse has been flogged to the point of polishing it’s bones, but that isn’t the point of this film. These are never leaned upon too much as in other films and are merely vehicles by which to take this roller-coaster ride. Likewise as I mentioned the story throws up no surprises and is easy enough to predict but that’s because all of the twist and turns lie with the seemingly straightforward characters themselves.
You stay with the band consisting of Frank, Clara, Jon, Don, French speaking bassist Baraque (François Civil) and mute drummer Nana (Carla Azar). As Jon joins there ranks and rocks the boat more than that one annoying kid at summer camp, you watch all this characters unravel together. Such strong and seemingly cliche styles give you a strong impression on dynamics in the band until the story pokes and prods them until the fall apart and you realise you knew nothing about them or how they work. It’s fantastic to watch how wrongly you can judge even fictional people and their needs in a group and a great commentary running beneath the obvious and seemingly main themes. Who has the best interests at heart, who is the bad guy and the hero? Lines and intentions blur fantastically well.
The cast do a great job, Fassbender is the most charismatic fake head ever seen which is not a title I hand out thoughtlessly or often. Gyllenhaal is fantastic as Clara dealing out ferocity and brutality and then using the same mannerisms to portray heartbreak with ease and skill. Gleeson plays the bumbling British man from About Time but plays it with the same irresistible charm and desperate good will plus his comedy timing is absolutely second to none. Even McNairy in his brief screen time gives a great example of an awkward yet lovable comedic value going hand in hand with underlying pain. Don’s song that he plays for Jon Is beautifully unskilled and rough but touching and it mirrors his character perfectly.
This will not be everyone’s cup of tea but I struggle to find many faults with it. Some of the humour is a little too obvious, over quirky and sometimes convoluted and there are maybe too many messages that the real meaning can get swamped. Also it is important to the story but the last third can seem harder to stomach and a disappointing drop in mood compared to the majestically whimsical first two. Under these thin negatives though the film as a whole is a well constructed and heartfelt project.
There are a vast range of iconic scenes too ranging from Frank teaching the Hallmark card lesson that “anything can be a song” even a tuft of carpet, to possibly the funniest and most awkward sex scene this side of shoot em up. The moments where Frank convinces the Mother of a family who turns up at the cabin is also a sheer, bemusing joy to watch. The ending may also be in my opinion one of the most thoughtful, heartbreaking and effective endings that I have seen in a good long while. Everyone collectively sets the film up and Fassbender obliges to knock it out of the park, superb. The end song sums up the film well, what starts out as some random observations will soon gather pace and become something meaningful and fantastic.
The verdict: Like Frank’s music the film will either be loved, hated or confusingly questioned but whatever the outcome it should be experienced.