A recent plight that has become familiar to us all, is the monotonous task of finding something to watch on Netflix. There are so many options at our disposal, and yet we find ourselves wasting dozens of minutes trying to pick something to watch. In fact, I would dare say that it sometimes would seem as though we spend rather less time watching Netflix than we do browsing it. For this reason I am starting this “Navigating Netflix” series to coincide with my “Exploring the Amazon” series. I am taking it upon myself to help you make smarter decisions on what movies to watch, by laying out what’s good on Netflix, and what isn’t. Hopefully this will hep you to spend less time searching, and more time watching.
To kick things off, we’re starting with a film that came out two years ago: “Frank.” Frank is a truly unique movie that follows the exploits of Jon, a struggling musician, played by the up-and-coming actor most recently of Star Wars fame, Mr. Domhnall Gleeson. In this movie, Jon stumbles almost headfirst into playing keyboards for a rather eccentric pop band with an unpronounceable name. This band, made up of a diverse cast of characters including Scoot McNairy and Maggie Gyllenhaal, plays an incredibly esoteric and cacophonous style of music, complete with multiple synthesizers and a theremin to boot. At the helm of this group, played by the incomparable Michael Fassbender, is Frank, an enigmatic man with a wealth of ideas in his head. He is more-than-likely mentally unstable, generally capricious and impatient, yet simultaneously benevolent and philosophical. However, despite all of these vivid character traits, the most curious thing about Frank is the fact that he constantly wears a Papier-mâché head. No seriously, look at the picture below.
The real meat of this movie comes in the dynamics that play between Jon, Carla (Gyllenhaal), and Frank. From the very beginning, Jon wants the band to be famous. He is constantly encouraging the band to be more relatable, in both their music style, and their presentation. This causes quite a bit of tension with the more senior members of the ensemble, most notably Carla. Jon and Carla quarrel consistently throughout the film, both about the nature of the band, but also for Frank’s affections. Carla is in love with the mystery that is Frank, and Jon is enraptured by the masked man’s musical genius. This back and forth never feels forced or unnecessary as their interplay on screen is reminiscent of a really attention-grabbing tennis match. Throughout it all, Frank remains aloof, a wonder to behold. You never know what he is going to say, or what on earth he is going to do next.
All of the acting in Frank is superb, as it should be, as they cast some of the most over-looked, yet unbelievably talented actors working today. Gleeson does a fantastic job of leading the ship. His actions are firmly developed and his motivations made clear. But above all else, he-like the rest of this movie-is really very funny. Frank’s style of comedy is dry and at times very dark, and Gleeson delivers it with panache. He does a wonderful job at being a straight-man, juxtaposed with the pure madness exhibited by the other characters. At the start, we as an audience are supposed to feel as if Jon is the only sane prisoner in a nuthouse. But what Gleeson presents so beautifully is the sense that in reality everyone, including Jon, is just a little bit insane, whether we want to realize it or not.
Gyllenhaal is a firecracker in Frank. She’s got an edge to her that keeps you constantly on the fence between believing her to be insane, or completely rational. It’s a very entertaining dynamic that works well in the overall confusion in this film. The real standout of Frank, is-believe it or not- Frank. Fassbender accomplishes something that few actors can: The ability to give an inspired performance that feels believable as well as impactful, without us needing to see his face. Certain actors like to act with props. They wave around a cigar or martini glass to accentuate their lines and convey emotion. In Frank, Fassbender’s prop is the head. He uses it not only to symbolize a block between his character and the rest of the world, but also uses the disconnection to embellish a scene. From time to time throughout this movie, Domhnall Gleeson will deliver a line and Frank will turn around to give a blank stare to really punctuate the moment. It provides for hilarious comedy as well as poignant pauses. However, as I said before, it is not an effect that could be achieved by just any actor. Fassbender provides a certain level of expertise that really must be praised. He is often forgotten in Hollywood when the topic of great actors comes along. He deserves to be recognized.
The real strength that Frank possesses is not necessarily only in the acting talent, but perhaps even more so in the overall atmosphere of the movie. Frank simultaneously feels modern and classic all at the same time. I can easily imagine this film starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, yet it still feels firmly rooted in the 2000’s. It utilizes many classic film-making techniques yet adapts them to more modern sensibilities. For example, parts of this movie are narrated by Domhnall Gleeson but it doesn’t feel unnecessary. While other movies simply use narration out of laziness, Frank takes the concept and uses it to reflect Jon’s inner disconnect from the rest of society. From time to time they use tweets that Jon sends out to progress the plot, but it oddly enough doesn’t seem gimmicky but more of just a clever way to tell a story. It’s comparable to songs in musicals. After all, when Maria sings about her favorite things, you don’t call it a gimmick, you just consider it to be the way “The Sound of Music” tells its story. Frank follows a pretty simple story, there aren’t too many subplots to it, yet it still feels rich and inviting, just like classic movies like “Roman Holiday” or “The Great Dictator.” This is why I consider it to be a modernly classic movie, it is a film of our time, even though it doesn’t try to be. You can feel the 21st-century-ness of it, yet it still feels like it could have come out at any point. In the end, Frank is just a movie worth watching. Despite an incredible performance by Michael Fassbender there isn’t anything particularly revolutionary about it. All of the acting is good, the directing is good and the premise is good. It is, as a film, just good. It’s what a movie should be. Entertaining, non-alienating and above all, fun.