In England in the '80s, there was a pop musician named Frank Sidebottom, who became less famous for his fuzzy covers of hits than the giant mask he wore while he sang, an 18-inch fiberglass globe with round eyes, big lips, and a prim side part. He was a novelty, and perhaps a bit of a nut. The masterstroke of Frank, the film ex–Sidebottom collaborator Jon Ronson has now co-written, is that this time the man in the mask is a modern Mozart. And, unsparingly, Ronson has written himself as the jealous goober who risks everything, with the delusion that he's the smart one.
In his first gig with Soronprfbs -- the unpronounceable name is the first clue that Frank has no aspirations of radio airtime -- Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) shows up in a hoodie and T-shirt -- and he's instantly outclassed by the band: two French snobs (Carla Azar and François Civil), a theramin-pounding banshee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and Frank (Michael Fassbender), the Easter Island god of the stage, who has paired his giant head with a scuba suit. Frank never takes off the head. Explains manager (Scoot McNairy), "You're just going to have to go with this." And so we do.
Director Lenny Abrahamson frames the film as a millennial myth, sealing the band away in a remote cabin in Ireland to record its first album, which sounds like whale noises, acid freak-outs, and the B-52s. Frank walks tall -- all Fassbender has to act with is his spine. Like Jon, we're torn between wanting to share his gifts with the world and the looming fear that the world has become so cynical that it will write him off as a joke.
Lenny AbrahamsonMichael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McnairyJon Ronson, Peter StraughanDavid Barron, Ed Guiney, Stevie LeeMagnolia Pictures
Genius is hell, both for the blessed and for those stuck in the shadows, cursed to spend a lifetime smashing their heads against the glass. In its presence, we find ourselves dwarfed and dumb, like moths. We know we're before brilliance we can't comprehend—and we know we'll never have it,...