Starring: Frank Langella, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard
You may like this if you liked: Song for Marion (Paul Andrew Williams, 2012), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (John Madden, 2011), The Guilt Trip (Anne Fletcher, 2012)
Set in the near future, Robot and Frank tells the story of Frank (Langella) an elderly ex cat burglar who lives alone with a gradually diminishing memory. Unable to care for him due to living a distance away and due to Frank’s refusal to move to a retirement home, Frank’s son Hunter (James Marsden) buys Frank a robot (voice by Sarsgaard) to look after him. This being the future, this robot is able to care for him like another human being and is just as intelligent and able to think and converse for itself. At first extremely reluctant, Frank comes to like the robot and utilises the slight flaws in its programs to teach it to help him commit a jewellery heist on the yuppies who want to modernise his beloved library to help him roll back the years. However with his increasing memory loss and dementia, Frank faces greater challenges to deal with and learns more things about himself than he ever wanted to anticipate.
Quite a strange concept isn’t it? Well it certainly is, but for me this film surprisingly works. There is quite a demand it seems these days for films about ageing, referred to as the so called ‘grey pound’ and Robot & Frank contains the same fundamental melancholic themes associated with these films, but certainly deals with them in a slightly different and ultimately very effective way. Of course the plot development involving Frank’s relationship with ‘Robot’ is predictable, but somehow avoids the normal clichés due to a very strong and witty script. Other than that this is a refreshingly original and quirky plot full of surprises that is a very enjoyable watch from start to finish.
Despite the sci-fi element of the plot, this is dealt with in a very matter of fact way and we pretty much straight away accept that element of the plot. There are many slightly fantastical developments in the plot, but the tone is consistently a mixture of melancholic and quirky making this forgivable. There are maybe a few developments in the plot that are a little forgettable, but overall they are always predominantly depicted in a fun quirky almost caper like tone.
The more serious melancholic themes associated with old age are never forgotten and these are dealt with genuine sentiment avoiding over emphasis or cliché. The relationship between Frank and ‘Robot’ for me actually developed into a genuinely sentimental one as themes of loneliness, companionship and an ability to accept a changing world are dealt with in a very effectively and a very involving way.
The acting from the entire cast is superb and perfect for the tone of the narrative. Langella captures the various emotions his character would be feeling perfectly. Peter Sarsgaard’s voice is perfect and the best robot voice since Kevin Spacey in Moon. The supporting cast of Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon are also very effective in their individual roles.
My only criticism is that the character of Frank is a little inconsistent, I know this may be partly due to his condition but there are a few occasions when he is actually hard to like due some of the things he does. There is also a more dramatic moment towards the end which perhaps added very little. However, Robot & Frank is otherwise a really enjoyable and genuinely sentimental film.
A slightly bizarre concept that surprisingly works; Robot & Frank combines quirky fun and genuine sentiment very well to produce an original take on what it must be like to face old age. A witty script and effective performances provide a really enjoyable watch.