Robot & Frank is a feel-good look into the future
Starring Frank Langella and Peter Sarsgaard. Rated PG.
Here is a curious item in which the most difficult aspects are done exceptionally well and the easy stuff falls apart. Happily, this won’t keep you from enjoying Frank Langella’s memorable turn as a slightly saturnine fellow facing old age with all the dignity and cunning he can muster.
In musician-turned-director Jake Schreier’s feature debut, the lanky Langella is a retired jewel thief, also called Frank, who is slowly losing his marbles. We don’t know what kind of dementia is at play here, but with his wife long gone, he’s rattling badly around a big family house in upstate New York. A do-gooding daughter (Liv Tyler) is heading off on some mission to Central Asia, and Frank’s resentful son (James Marsden) can’t hack the long drive on weekends to look after the old man, who, it goes without saying, was not much of a father.
This being set in the near future, the son gets Dad a gift that will keep on giving—and cooking, gardening, and cleaning up messes of several kinds. This shiny, beta-tested robot possesses no face but does have the voice of Peter Sarsgaard, very good as an entity aware of its own limits but flexible on what it means to serve man. The robot wants Frank to improve his diet and overall routine, and it’s tricky to convince him that a spot of late-night larceny would help keep the old guy’s mental faculties alive.
The scenes of gradual bonding between man and metallic assistant are brilliant. When Frank decides to hit the Internet millionaire (Jeremy Strong) who’s shutting down the local library where Frank’s crush (Susan Sarandon) works, there is some playful commentary on the digital age. But Christopher Ford’s screenplay needed a few more passes in the human-being department, and a late twist is so silly it threatens to undo what came before. The movie has some clunkily mechanical parts; in the end, though, the feelings are real.
Watch the trailer for Robot & Frank.