Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a young man with dreams of becoming a musician. While struggling to write anything substantial or noteworthy, he finds himself in the right place at the right time, offering up his services to an offbeat, unconventional band, led by the enigmatic, beguiling Frank (Michael Fassbender). However the frontman never once takes off his mask, and while exciting and original at first, Jon soon realises he’s bitten off more than he can chew, getting mixed up in a surreal, deranged fantasy, alongside his new band mates Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Don (Scoot McNairy).
There’s a real surrealism to this title, and a whimsicality that gives off an almost cartoon vibe, as though this is set in an alternate universe of sorts. However Abrahamson includes various references to Twitter and YouTube, while the constant reminders about mental health ground this movie and add a sense of poignancy and realism to proceedings. Such an atmosphere is enhanced by the music, most of which the band themselves are playing. It’s bizarre and innovative, and serves the unpredictable, erratic feeling that exists. There’s also something rather creepy about the titular role, complete with a static fibreglass head, and fixed smile, which is almost sinister. Considering such a lonely, unstable man is beneath it, a sense of poignancy is formed.
Mental health is a prevalent theme to this title, handled in a unique way. To be able to balance the humorous, witty elements with such profound, often disquieting themes is a real testament to the filmmakers. Around halfway through proceedings you do question whether there’s quite enough depth to this title, or if it’s happy to settle on being merely whimsy and quite light, but there’s a distinct shift in tone, where suddenly it becomes evident that this is actually a somewhat distressing tale, providing a clarity and grander meaning to everything that came before.
Despite being hidden behind a face mask for the vast majority of this title, there’s something rather brilliant in knowing that beneath lies Fassbender, adding a comfort of sorts to the picture, as we know that such a wonderful actor has taken on the role, almost like we know a secret that nobody else is aware of. Also, somehow, he manages to steal the show, without us even seeing his face. The man truly can do no wrong. Credit to Gleeson too, for a commendable lead performance – as he’s blessed with a fascinating, layered role, as while innocent and sincere at first, as the film progresses his narcissism and desperation to be a star takes precedence.
For a film brimming with ingenuity, it’s a shame to see tweets pop up on the side of the screen, and while the social media element is essential, it’s an unsubtle, hackneyed way of portraying it. That said, it’s something of a minor gripe in an otherwise memorable piece of cinema, that marks the continuous rise of one of the most promising young directors working today.