Domhnall (Bill Weasley) Gleeson stars in what is probably the best cast rock ‘n’ roll art film since Velvet Goldmine or I’m Not Here. Unlike those two baroque outings, however, this one lives up to its hipster star power, starting with the principles. Gleeson plays an ordinary English kid obsessed with songwriting but short on actual talent. He’s accidentally thrown together with an avant garde rock outfit fronted by a man calling himself Frank (Michael Fassbender!) who always wears a giant cardboard head. That’s right: one of the handsomest leading men available is reduced to an enigmatic mask. His female counterpart, the hard-edged Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plays the theremin, and her solo incantation of “On Top of Old Smoky” is easily the movie’s weirdest cool moment.
By now you’ve probably guessed that Frank’s true glory is its unpredictability — it’s a cliché-free zone where funny and tragic keep changing places. There’s also a remarkable distance between the revelations of the story and anything like a moralizing voice. We’re sure when we see Jon (Gleeson) initially rejected by his demented bandmates, it’s their problem. By the end it’s more difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong.
Not to be missed, this film is full of cult riches, but feels like a weird documentary. The indie rock world, from little clubs to dazed-out moments in Austin’s South by Southwest, is preserved here by this fictional band. It’s the bittersweet monument that contemporary rock deserves.