Director: Jake Schreier
Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, James Marsden, Peter Sarsgaard (voice)
Running Time: 89 Minutes.
Release Date: March 8
From the Tin Man to Arnold Schwarzenegger, audiences have always been quick to warm to an anthropomorphic hunk of metal. Should the human-cyborg war ever come to pass, such empathy will surely prove our undoing. In the meantime, however, we can enjoy Robot & Frank.
Extrapolated from his short script by Christopher D. Ford, Robot & Frank marks the feature debut of Waverly Films (YouTube ’em) alumnus, Jake Schreier. The film stars Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) as Frank, an ageing burglar battling early onset dementia, while Robot is voiced by the calmly soothing Peter Sarsgaard. Liv Tyler, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon co-star but this is a two-hander at heart.
Set in a “near future” upstate New York, the film opens with career criminal Frank breaking into a house. Once inside, he finds the living room in disarray and it appears the house has already been burgled. Then a darker truth emerges. This is Frank’s house and his memory is fading.
With his liberal daughter, Madison (Tyler), in Turkmenistan, it is left to Frank’s corporate-minded son, Hunter (Marsden), to make the ten-hour round trip each week to check on him. Not that he receives any thanks. A crotchety curmudgeon, Frank insists he’s fine, yet he thinks his son is still in Princeton and routinely plans to eat at a restaurant that’s been closed for years. A voracious reader, Frank visits the library, where he flirts with Sarandon’s librarian and keeps his hand in, shoplifting scented candles from a local store. In truth, though, his days are empty and one quickly fades into the next.
To inject some much-needed routine into his father’s life, Hunter presents Frank with Robot, a child-sized home-care android. Programmed to ensure Frank’s wellbeing, Robot soon implements a regime of healthy eating and exercise. Needless to say, the pair don’t see eye to eye. When Frank discovers Robot’s potential as an “entry-man” things take a promising turn. Unburdened by morals, Robot’s primary function is to monitor Frank’s physical and mental health. So, when a return to his criminal ways, sees Frank improve in both, the unlikely duo set about planning a mini crime spree.
Given the limitations of its budget, Robot & Frank does a fine job creating an economic “near future”, adding subtle texture to its world with “near future” ideas in place of special effects. The film flirts freely between genres (sci-fi, crime caper, buddy movie), switching from playfulness to poignancy, sometimes within a single beat. Langella is terrific as Frank and his relationship with Robot deeply moving. Wisely avoiding the cute factor, Schreier allows Frank—and the audience—to project on to Robot. The result makes for a remarkably tender comic-drama.