Title: Robot & Frank
Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction
Director(s): Jake Schreier
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Robot & Frank does what so few movies are willing to do: give emotional attachment to a non-living entity. The movie has more heart than most films that have been released this year, and it has its own sense of humor which never gets old. However, it’s Frank Langella who really takes hold of the viewer and makes them feel the pain he feels, allowing them to be caught up in his life and understand his motives, as well as being able to comprehend both of his character’s children’s perspectives. The real power in Robot & Frank comes from the amount of emotional impact a robot can have on one man’s life, and what happens to someone who can’t detach from his seemingly one true friend.
The movie takes place in the near future, where technology is only slightly more advanced, with the only noticeable changes in society being an even more increased reliance on technology, the use of video chat at all times instead of audio chat, and there are robots. Frank (Langella) is old, recently divorced, he can’t remember everything like he used to, his son (James Marsden) is tired of taking care of him, and his daughter (Liv Tyler) is too far away to give him comfort. Nothing is going well in Frank’s life except for his access to a library, and his love interest with a librarian named Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). Frank soon finds out that all the books will be taken out of the library and the building will be used as a place to go and check out books in an augmented reality, trying to give a sense of what it was like to read before technology. This also plays as a nod to the current hipster culture, and the revival of everything that was once considered obsolete because it’s now ‘trendy’.
The film doesn’t truly take off until Frank’s son brings him a robot, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, to help him around the house and keep him healthy so that his son no longer needs to come around as much. Naturally, Frank is against this decision and has a hard time coping with the idea of relying so heavily on a piece of technology. It’s not until he realizes that he can teach the robot to steal things and help him with burglaries that Frank becomes so attached to Robot (he never does name it anything else). Frank’s history of burglaries and theft now comes to the forefront, revealing a man who has only one real passion in life and that’s the thrill of a heist. Everything from this point on is the development of a relationship between one man and his robot helper, which never ceases to amuse or charm the audience. Langella plays this role perfectly and the excellence in the script definitely caters to his incredible performance.
There’s a lot of relevant issues that are discussed in this film, one of the main ones being the dependence on technology, and whether it is too much. The end of the film was actually really depressing, despite it’s tone being very happy and cheerful with everything seeming fine, which leads to a great example of what this movie really has going for it. Frank finds heart in something that isn’t living, but the fact that he has only ever shared his passion for stealing with his robot is very emotionally heart-wrenching. To add to that, his deteriorating memory has made it difficult for his family to be able to take care of him on top of their own busy lives, so they want to put him in a nursing home. All of this culminates into a very morose and gloomy feeling that resonated with me, and that’s what makes Robot & Frank an excellent film. Never does the film go too dark, but it has a hard time letting go of its grip on realism, which makes the movie all that more interesting.
One of the things that I’ve barely mentioned is the humor in this film, which caters from simple robot jokes, to stabs at modern culture, and also does some nice references to previous scenes in the film. Sarsgaard’s voice feels at home in this film, and even though he isn’t really in the film physically, I always pictured him in the suit of the robot. That definitely contributes to the investment factor that Robot & Frank has emotionally with its two main characters and is somewhat reflected in the fact that I never really paid attention to the science fiction elements of this film. Everyone felt real, and the movie never tries to play up its future technology once the robot is introduced.
I will say that the script could be a little tighter, and the ending of the film is portrayed in a light that doesn’t resonate the same way with me as it was intended to, but I love the film regardless of these minor complaints. If you can take the time out of your schedule and have a cinema that is showing the film nearby, I definitely recommend seeing this. It may not be as violent and bloody as The Expendables 2 but it definitely has way more heart in it than anything in theaters right now.