Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Robot & Frank
Jake Schreier, director
Christopher D. Ford, script
Starring: Frank Langella (Frank), Peter Sarsgaard (Robot’s voice), James Marsden (Hunter), Liv Tyler (Madison), Susan Sarandon (Jennifer)
This engaging, oddball entry about an aging man who is given a robot for a companion in the near future was the co-winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance 2012, awarded for a film with a scientific theme. With a starry cast including Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden plus the voice of Peter Sarsgaard, Robot & Frank has garnered small, but significant interest.
Zoomers (who will take care of them in the future?), science fiction, funny caper film
Aging ex-con Frank is living alone, long divorced from his wife but in loving if distant contact with his children, Hunter and Madison. It’s the near future and robots can speak and perform tasks. Hunter decides to give Frank a robot to take care of him over Madison’s objections. Feisty and a bit cantankerous, Frank is initially angry at having a mechanical “friend,” but is soon won over by Robot.
Reinvigorated, Frank decides to do what he does best: plan and execute a robbery. Annoyed by the abrupt removal of the books from the library, where his friend Jennifer works, Frank steals the most precious ancient volume before it can be sold. Annoyed at the yuppies who are taking over the town, he next plans to steal jewelry from the wealthy new head of the library—clearly the leader of the new “establishment.”
Madison arrives to visit Frank and immediately turns off the Robot over her father’s objections. It’s only when she leaves that Frank can return to his old outlaw ways with his metallic friend. But Frank hasn’t counted on his on-going dementia and “forgetfulness” causing him problems. He’s not the burglar he used to be—and Robot can only do so much.
Even if Frank pulls off his heist, will it be his last one? And what will happen to him and Robot if his early attacks of Alzheimer’s force him to give up his independent life?
While it’s nice to see Susan Sarandon looking lovely on screen, her part is merely a supporting one. That’s the case for Liv Tyler and James Marsden, too. The film rises and falls on one man, Frank Langella. Happily, the veteran stage and screen actor is up to the task and keeps the film percolating nicely. Kudos to Peter Sarsgaard, as well, who shapes something interesting out of a tinny voice.
Jake Schreier moves things along briskly but there’s no flavour in his direction.
Robot & Frank has an intriguing premise but the film doesn’t deliver the goods dramatically. What will it be like when the Zoomer population needs more support as they age—and kids aren’t around to help? This film asks questions but provides no answers.