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Behind the Music (and the Mask) 

"Frank" is a profound look at the madness that sometimes comes with art

Anybody who has ever struggled to create something, be it a song or a painting or a Popsicle stick castle, will find something to love in "Frank." Director Lenny Abrahamson has made a profound and silly film about the soul-sucking madness that can be the creation of art and the perils of celebrity pursuit.

Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) clumsily tries to write music while living with his mom and dad in England. His attempts are, in a word, pathetic and he knows it. He soldiers on believing that his earnestness will eventually reward him with catchy, mind-bending tunes and a famous career. He steadfastly believes in this even though he has no real talent to speak of. He chronicles his struggles on Twitter and YouTube because the world must care about his pursuits, right?

Jon happens upon a strange band, the impossible to pronounce Soronprfbs, as their keyboardist is attempting to drown himself in the ocean. He mentions he's a keyboardist to band manager Don (Scoot McNairy), who instantly and unceremoniously gives him the gig. Soon thereafter, Jon is in the forest living with the band attempting to record an album.

The band is fronted by Frank (), a possible musical genius who insists upon wearing a large mask with big bug eyes all of the time, be it when he's in public, performing or sleeping. The character is based slightly upon Frank Sidebottom, the singing alter ego of late British comedian Chris Sievey, who wore a mask similar to the one Fassbender wears in the film and was known for his Queen covers. Jon Ronson, a former member of Sidebottom's band, co-wrote the script.

"Frank" functions as a painfully funny representation of those great artists like Syd Barrett (who gets referenced in the film), Captain Beefheart and Vincent Van Gogh who went a little mad for their art. Fassbender fully commits, letting his voice and hand gestures do all the work. Like the character he is playing, Fassbender doesn't take off the mask for the vast majority of the film's running time, an interesting career choice for a guy with matinee idol looks.

As terrific as Fassbender is, it is Gleeson (Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) who commands most of the movie, and he does this admirably. Watching the very sane Jon nearly go insane is one of the film's many pleasures.

Jon constantly pushes Frank and the band to be more likeable, accessible and popular, posting videos of them on YouTube and communicating with potential fans on Twitter. This results in a gig at the infamous South By Southwest in Texas, which temporarily transforms "Frank" into a road trip. The movie also works as a testament to life on the road with seedy motels, pancake houses and band members inexplicably waking up in bed next to you.

McNairy shines as the suicidal band member with a condition that has him wanting to make love to mannequins (a condition he highlights in his haunting, disturbingly funny ballad, "Be Still"). Maggie Gyllenhaal is appropriately nasty as Clara, the requisite angry bad member who doesn't welcome newcomers and will stab you if you wrong her.

By the time Frank sings "I Love You All" in the final scene, he's managing to create his most "likeable" and accessible song yet, the catchy byproduct of madness, despair and the artistic birthing process. Fellow critics and Academy members need to remember this track at year's end because we need to see Frank and his band performing at the Oscars. Fassbender and friends have already performed the track on "The Colbert Report" and it was magical.

In a summer movie season pitting out with garbage like "The Expendables 3" and "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," "Frank" shines on like a crazy diamond.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in Frank

More by Bob Grimm

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