Frank Sidebottom was a comic persona created by British comedian Chris Sievey as a bizarre kind of satire on the nature of ambitious wannabe celebrities, who was easily recognisable due to the large, caricatured papier mache head he always wore. As well as a brief career as a television presenter, he also appeared in one of those so-bad-it’s-good bands that spoofed the shallow vacuousness of pop music, and for a while the writer Jon Ronson was in said band. When Sievey sadly passed away in 2010, Ronson started to write a biopic of his time making music with him, but from the evidence of this he soon decided that rather than sticking to the facts, going off on a tangent even stranger than the already-bizarre true story would make for a better film. He was probably right, as what we’re left with here is less the story of Frank Sidebottom or Chris Sievey, and more of an original piece that seems inspired by reclusive, avant-garde musicians such as Captain Beefheart or Daniel Johnston.

Perhaps appropriately, it’s a very strange film. It veers all over the place from broad humour to biting satire of the music industry to sombre and serious character piece, and this uneven tone is often difficult to figure out. Perhaps Sievey would have wanted it that way – the idea of a tortured artist who never removes a massive plastic head is on the one hand quite funny, and on the other hand worryingly suggestive of some sort of serious psychological problem. It’s that last point that almost derails it all in fact, as the last act ends up being a pretty harrowing portrayal of mental illness, but what comes before still makes it worthwhile – it has several perfectly-judged moments of comedy, a nicely underplayed subtext about the masks of fame and commercial success, and a true celebration of the thrilling yet terrifying power of creating music.

Taking what it needed from Frank Sidebottom's true story and filling in the rest with terrific original ideas9
Utterly weird throughout, which is perhaps as it should be6
Unpleasant, possibly disrespectful, portrayal of serious (possibly abuse-related) mental health issues4
Several perfectly satirical moments combining humour with biting subtext9
Capturing the transcendence of creating music9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
7Overall Score

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