In this movie, Michael Fassbender plays the eccentric leader of an avant-garde musical group and he wears a giant papier-mache head all the time. And I do mean all the time, as a hilarious shower scene demonstrates. Unfortunately, I felt the film as a whole was a real disappointment, though it certainly had moments. Domnhall Gleason, an actor I like quite a bit, is the audience surrogate, a keyboardist who gets roped in to join the band when their regular keyboardist . . . well, attempts suicide via walking into the ocean. Right, I’m not sure I’d take that job then, but whatever. The film really works pretty well as an absurdist comedy for about the first half as the band holes up in a cabin in the woods to create their new album. Then the film attempts a switch to a more serious storyline where the band has to deal with genuine fame (at least “fame,” of the online variety, you know). There are still moments, including the most hilariously inappropriate and genuinely shocking usage of the phrase, “Let’s ****,” that I have ever seen in my life. But ultimately, as occasionally funny and genuinely odd as the film is, it fails at establishing its characters as anything but cartoons: the aspiring songwriter, the angry, sociopathic female, the weirdo, erratic band leader. At the end of the film, and especially at the strange climax, we’re supposed to be emotionally involved with these characters as real people; but, as much as Fassbender tries, Frank is too broadly written for the bulk of the film; he’s essentially a one-joke character. Gleason’s character is a blank; we never really understand what makes him tick in any but the most rudimentary ways. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s turn as the female lead of the band is equally cartoonish; she gets some laughs, but it’s hard to buy her as having any real angst when she’s spent most of the movie snarling clichéd “angry artist” lines, though she gives it a fine try in the climactic scene. The film attempts a bold shift there, especially in the last third and, had it worked, it would have been a phenomenal twist on what had seemed like an eccentric indie comedy. But unfortunately, it doesn’t and I found myself wishing the movie had just maintained the more comedic, cartoonish, absurdist tone. I had high expectations for this film, as I kind of do for anything featuring Michael Fassbender, one of the most exciting and interesting actors of his generation, but I was really very disappointed. A shame. Distinctly average. Recommended against. 2 stars.
tl;dr – intriguing premise and excellent cast are unfortunately wasted in this tonally incoherent failure. 2 stars.