Frank tells the story of Frank Sidebottom, the comedic persona of Chris Sievey who performed as a musician and entertainer for over 25 years from 1984 to Sievey’s death in 2010. At least, I thought that’s what it was going to be, mainly because I didn’t read the synopsis. I was quite confused when one of the main characters started Tweeting.
It turns out that it’s a story only partly inspired by the Frank Sidebottom story, but any fans of the infamous persona will be sadly disappointed. It is based on the memoirs of Jon Robson (author of The Psychopath Test), covering his time in the Oh Blimey Big Band with Sidebottom. Frank in this film is a distant relative of the real Frank, and the action is set firmly in modern Ireland and USA rather than 1980s Greater Manchester.
It is a big-name cast for what is essentially quite a small story. Michael Fassbender plays the unstable titular role; Domhnall Gleeson plays the ambitious musician Jon (the equivalent of Jon Ronson); and Maggie Gyllenhall plays Clara, a pivotal band member. There are two Academy Award nominees there and the film at times risks feeling a little like it had been over-cast.
I didn’t really enjoy much of it, if I’m being brutally honest. The music around which the story is built seemed a little contrived. I get that they had to replace the original Frank Sidebottom songs for the modern settings, which have ended up occupying a similar plane without using the songs in any way, and I suppose there isn’t a place for “I’m In Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk” in a film like this. Yet it begs the question: was it relevant to feature the likeness of Frank Sidebottom when the final result has nothing to do with the character? I find it unfair that Chris Sievey worked his whole life to create a celebrated persona, only for the world view of it to be irreparably altered by a film release that essentially has nothing to do with the subject.
Thankfully, a truer reflection of the man inside the mask will be available when Steve Sullivan’s crowd-funded film Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is released later this year. Inevitably it won’t be as popular – it won’t have Michael Fassbender to help sell it – but at least a truer reflection of the story will be told.