Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a young wannabe rock star who stumbles into the offbeat band Soronprfbs led by Frank (Michael Fassbender). Never found without his strange doll-head, even in the shower, Frank suggests, "Would it help if I said my facial expressions out loud?"
Based upon the persona created by the late Chris Sievey, English musician and comedian, Frank is a talented and inspiring band leader with unusual tactics. He finds inspiration in everything around him: he writes 'Lone Standing Tuft, an ode to a stray carpet strand and the band creates new sounds out of everyday objects (Frank becomes enthralled by the sound of a door opening and closing).
The Soronprfbs include Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the theremin player with a hostile attitude; Don (Scooty McNairy), the manager with a sexual attraction to mannequins; and a French pair (François Civil and Hayley Derrbyberry) who, to be honest, seem to mostly fill the need for extra band/cast members. They depart for Ireland to write and record a new album. Shut off from the rest of the world, insanity, which arrived when they did, intensifies.
Jon, the one with whom the audience can most closely associate, is eager and mesmerized by Frank's genius. Hoping to find his own musical success through the band, Jon suggests they accept an invitation to play at the SXSW music festival in Texas. Frank is thrilled by the idea; he has a deeply-held desire to be liked which Jon encourages thereby engendering 'Frank's Most Likeable Song'. Clara, however, incredibly loyal, conscious of Frank's sensitive nature, and determined to keep the band underground, threatens Jon should his SXSW trip fail ("I will stab you.").
The combination of hilarity, touching sincerity, and my own curiosity at the bizarre kept me intrigued. The play between Jon, Frank, and Clara is most interesting, but Gyllenhaal's one-dimensional combative attitude gets old pretty quickly. Its really Frank's mental and emotional state that offers the most depth for the film and Fassbender's portrayal of it, mostly behind a papier-mâché head with a muffled voice, is spectacular. He clearly know's what Frank's issues are, but, unfortunately, those details eluded me through to the end (mental? emotional? physical? all of the above?).
Maybe I don't really need to know; maybe all I need to know is that Frank needs the band and the band needs Frank (the reasons for the latter are more vague). Perhaps it is in the band where Frank's perpetual need to be liked is satisfied. With that kind of genuine sincerity and friendship, however bizarelly it is presented, I suppose I can be okay with missing out on some of the character details I'm used to having.