This is a film that I was very wary of seeing. It is about a musician who wears a large papier mache head, and is based on the thoroughly English performer Chris Sievey who performed as Frank Sidebottom, and until his death was a cult figure whose songs were mostly about the small Northern town of Timperley. When it was announced that Michael Fassbinder was to play the lead, many in the music industry were worried.
But the script was co-written by Jon Ronson, of Men Who Stare at Goats and many other quirky documentaries. He was either the roadie or a member of the band, so knew his subject well.
To my great surprise, the film is really great. It follows a nobody with dreams of being a songwriter, but convinced that coming from a nice ordinary family he had nothing to say. When Frank’s band arrives in his town and their keyboard player has a nervous breakdown, he gets the gig, and unwittingly goes with them to the wilds of Ireland to write and record their new album. He realises what a genius – and a charming man – Frank is, and his social media account of their time builds up so much interest the band are invited to play South By Southwest, to the horror of the die hard experimental band mates.
This is a film about musicians, the battle for fame and artistic credibility, but it is also about whether you need to suffer to be a great artist, as in, can white men play the blues. Fassbinder puts in a wonderful performance as the damaged, eccentric genius, and Maggie Gyllenhaal shows she has the chops to be a great fairytale witch.