Movie review: Robot & Frank
The way the future is often depicted in films can be so disappointing; for instance, who isn't frustrated that hover boards still haven't been invented yet?
This quietly absorbing film, set in the near future, doesn't go overboard in its predictions, but its notion that robots will be readily available to help out around the house is certainly an attractive one.
No one would argue that Frank (Frank Langella) is in the later stages of his life. He's getting to the point where his memory isn't what it once was, and his mental deterioration is causing his son Hunter (James Marsden) a lot of concern.
So much so that he decides that it's time to buy his dad a VGC-60L – a life-sized, care-assisting robot. Frank, initially, is highly resistant to the idea. He doesn't feel that he needs help from anyone or thing, and just wants to be left alone.
Slowly but surely however, a somewhat unconventional relationship blossoms. Frank may be getting on in years, but the more time he spends with the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), the more he realises that he could be of some use to him in terms of resurrecting his career. The problem is, Frank used to be a jewel thief, and with a robot under his command, he's found the perfect accomplice for himself.
There are basically two types of robot films: those that have robots that go mad and kill, and those that don't. This one most certainly falls into the latter category. As far as his family tree is concerned, it wouldn't be a surprise if he shared a genealogical chip or two from Buck Roger's robot sidekick Twiki.
Director Jake Schreier's debut feature is one that is brimming with the most elegant of pathos. It may well have a robot as a co-star but it certainly has a big heart.
It could easily have been simply about the bond between an elderly human and his domestic robot, but the film pushes the relationship a little more with its crime element.
Langella puts in a masterful performance, where he never once allows the robot to upstage him; he's warm, tender and delightfully cheeky with it. It's also nice to see Susan Sarandon in a supporting role too, even if she might be a little on the young side to be Langella's love interest.
There's also something rather charming regarding the fact that the robot isn't overly high tech in specs, although this may be more to do with the film's less than blockbuster budget than anything else. Sarsgaard is a good match for the voice for the robot, despite the fact that he sounds more like Kevin Spacey than Kevin Spacey does.
As buddy movies go, this isn't anywhere near as frenetic as most, but its gentle pace and nature suits it down to the ground. Robot & Frank delights with its oddball pairing of a pensioner and his robot home help proving that old people and technology can mix with remarkably entertaining results. And here's hoping that by the time we all get old and grey, we can all have our own robot to take care of us, with or without a hover board.
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