Robot & Frank

Rating:

Memory Lane Goes High Tech: Robot & Frank

Main Cast: Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler

Director: Jake Schreier

There’s something inherently cool about movies that use science fiction without being consumed by science fiction.  There’s also something inherently cool about Frank Langella.  Put those two together and how can you lose?  Answer: you can’t.  Robot & Frank rides the cool and comes out an indie winner.

Frank (Langella) is an aging man with some memory problems.  He lives by himself in upstate New York, filling his days with trips to the local library (to both check out books and chat with the pretty librarian, played by Susan Sarandon) and lapses down memory lane.  His son Hunter (James Marsden) lives hours away but makes the time to visit each weekend, only to be confronted by a surly father unwilling to admit that he might need some help.  His daughter Madison (Live Tyler) is “traveling”, but feels free to pressure her brother to take better care of their father.  Meanwhile (the story takes place “in the near future”) the library is being renovated into something of a museum, where there won’t be any actual books to check out.  The yuppies have moved in, embodied by prissy, arrogant Jake (Jeremy Strong), and they don’t believe in books.  It’s all about electronics.  Frank does not approve.

Finally, Hunter can’t tolerate the weekly visits anymore – his father is slipping and needs some help.  So he brings a robot.  Such things exist in this world – service robots specifically programmed for a variety of functions.  Frank is getting a health care robot – one who will cook healthy meals, make sure he stays on a routine and help him maximize his memory abilities.  The robot is fully aware of Frank’s medical history and daily needs and can adequately provide all the help a willing patient might possibly need.  If only Frank was a little more willing…well then we wouldn’t have much of a movie, would we?

Robot & Frank is what I think of as a labor of love.  There’s no way anyone involved here made a whole lot of money

Frank Langella

Frank Langella

doing this movie.  None of the actors needed it to pay the rent or pad their resumes.  It’s just a terrific story made by people who want to practice their craft.  And they do, and do it well.  Langella as Frank is grumpy and stubborn, sometimes confused but others razor sharp.  It’s an outstanding performance.  He gives Frank both softness and edge, making him a very, very likable character.  Sarandon is in her element as the earth mother type librarian and Marsden and Tyler both make the most of their relatively small roles.  Strong as Jake is perfectly, petulantly awful – exactly how he needs to be to make his part in the story work.

But good actors are nothing without a script and story.  Writer Christopher D. Ford and director Jake Schreier give their characters, including the robot, a striking humanity that is often completely missing from science fiction of all kinds.  The technology of the near future serves the story, rather than the other way around.  It isn’t about showcasing neat special effects or building a cool future world.  It’s all about the characters.  The technology just helps tell their stories.

Overall, Robot & Frank is a delightful little indie comedy/drama.  Very strong performances from Langella and the rest of the cast (including Peter Saarsgard as the voice of the robot) boost a clever story idea that’s both well written and well directed.  Kudos to all involved – 4 ½ stars out of 5 and a strong recommendation.

photo by Georges Biard

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