From the opening scene of wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) transforming basic observations into hilariously pitiful lyrics, the tone is set for this outrageously odd comedy. Far from a traditional collection of jokes, it also never attempts to be your typical memoir, documentary or social commentary but blends these diverse aspects into a charming and poignantly potent concoction.
Stuck in an office job and his parents house, the only melodies that come to twentysomething Jon’s fingers have already been hits. Through chance he lands himself a gig playing keyboard in the band Soronprfbs after their previous keyboardist tries to commit suicide (much like the one before him). The band are just as eccentric as their name, led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender) who wields a power and creative control from an oversized paper mache cartoon head. Jon pours his life savings into the band as they record an album in a secluded location and he begins to wrestle control away from Frank, disrupting the important balance and harmony within the group as the fame which Jon craves destroys the subdued tendencies of the band.
Deluded by the celebrity culture of Twitter, Jon goes from tens of followers to tens of thousands of follows as he documents the arduous and emotionally draining experience of recording the album. Equating Twitter followers to true fans and friends, he begins to think his dream has been realised before he’s even recorded a second of audio. He’s almost addicted to this faux-connection to his fans, never failing to share his perfectly embellished thoughts even at the most inappropriate of moments. It’s a fascinating and incredibly relevant exposé on our relationship with online social networks where we obsess over personal promotion of our ideal image. This profound dimension to the film utilizes humourous use of social media graphics and reveals important insights into Jon and his journey.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brilliant unruly Clara and her interaction with Jon produces some of the films best comic moments, while her intimate and protective relationship with Frank is subtly built up to reveal the mutual bond and support within the group as former mental patients. Much like Scarlett Johansson in Her, Fassbender never allows the prop head covering his face to be a hindrance; instead his superb use of physicality and dynamic vocal performance enliven a potential statue into an empathetic character of chaotic energy and brooding psychological trauma.
At times a very raw truth emanates in Frank, such as Jon frustratedly failing to play any of his own songs for the band after bragging about being a songwriter. These moments are funny in themselves but aren’t overtly played for laughs, highlighting Abrahamson’s sensitive but frank treatment of these peculiar characters, if you excuse the pun. Although its pacing wavers and some characters are underdeveloped, Abrahamson deftly weaves darker layers around the quirky humour which blossoms in the final act to produce a idiosyncratic film that’s fun but also surprisingly touching.