Robot & Frank

PhotobucketFrank is suffering from dementia. We discover this as we follow him through his daily routine. He says he’s going to Harry’s which is a restaurant that has been closed for a long time. It’s now a froufrou bath products store. He asks his son, Hunter, How’s Princeton?, a school he graduated from 15 years ago. He is often found wandering in the middle of the street. Concerned about his father’s deteriorating mental abilities, Hunter presents him with a robot. This is the near future and the robot is an advanced caregiver of sorts designed to clean, make meals, and ostensibly provide companionship for lonely people.

Robot & Frank is one of those films that will confound your expectations. I hadn’t seen the trailer beforehand and didn’t know what to expect. But the setup had me believing this would be a treacly tale on the regrettable effects of aging. How one plucky little robot improved the life of a cantankerous old coot. To be fair, I was partially right, It certainly starts out that way, but the drama is oh so much deeper than that.

The story is abetted by an appealing cast. Frank Langella plays Frank, a declining retiree in upstate New York. He’s given some wonderful performances in recent years, but this just might be his most engaging. He’s sweet, but never saccharine. He’s playing a sympathetic senior citizen, yes, but one with a surprising talent that makes him far from a saintly. Frank has a past. And let’s be “frank”, he is required to carry the picture. His interactions with everyone else form the bulk of the narrative. He enjoys visiting the local library where he hits on a mature but attractive librarian named Jennifer, played by Suisan Sarandon. She invites him to a fundraiser for her work. There he meets Jake played by newcomer Jeremy Strong, a smug hipster in charge of renovating the way the books are stored. He’s pretty much the very definition of a tool. Upon meeting the old guy, Jake remarks,” You’re so square, you’re practically avant-garde”. This is where the plot’s most interesting development takes off. I won’t spoil it, but it’s hilarious and totally unexpected.

Robot & Frank presents the life of a spirit reborn with a healthy dose of humor. The robot himself sort of reminds me of Woody Allen’s goofy butler disguise in the movie Sleeper. The cockamamie premise could’ve collapsed under a different direction – comparable to one of those high concept TV sitcoms from the 80s like Alf or Small Wonder. But the script manages to be funny, intelligent, and surprisingly original. It treats its main subject, not as an individual to be pitied, but as someone vibrant with a fully formed personality. Frank Langella imbues the character with a pragmatism that wholly unique. He simply finds excitement in doing things that he loves. The surprise here is that those pursuits are less than honorable.

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21 Responses to “Robot & Frank”

  1. Never heard of it, but your review makes it sound like an intriguing watch.

  2. Never even heard of this movie. It was such a surprising treat. I expected a sweet little feel good movie, but it was so much more. Creative story. Loved it.

  3. It looks like a charming, lovely film. It’s at my local alt. theater – a much better choice than Premium Rush. :)

  4. Dying to see this one.

  5. I want to see this one but it’s hard to find a screening of it. A local theater is playing it so I’ll be sure to check it out. Nice review.

  6. Nice reciew, hadn’t even heard of this movie before this, will have to seek it out.

  7. Great review. Hadn’t even heard about this movie before earlier today but I love the premise.

  8. dartangnonlassy Says:

    I saw the preview for this film over the weekend and immediately thought this movie would be awesome! It looked like it would capture my heart by touching close to home. Frank Langella has always been a favorite of mine due to his ability to play some heavy characters with ease. I look forward to exploring the relationship Robert shares with Frank, especially how they pull off heists together; I can only imagine that there will be some sad parts, given Frank’s condition. My business travel for Dish fills up my schedule, so I don’t make it to theaters as often as I’d like, but I’ll catch Robot and Frank using Dish Online; I always have my laptop whenever I’m away from home. Watching a good movie is a nice distraction when I’m missing home.

  9. I’m such a sucker for movies with characters who happen to have Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. I heard about this a couple of months back and I am happy it received good reviews. Unfortunately, it isn’t playing near me. But for sure I’ll catch it on DVD within a few months. :)

  10. Thanks for the review – I’ve been wanting to see this since seeing the trailer ages ago and have been on the lookout for it in the UK. It’s saying March 8th 2013 release date on imdb?! Hmm.. well, I’ll check it out someday. Somehow. :-)

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