“Robot & Frank” may offer the most unique look at growing old that you’ll find. It touches on several of the age-related elements we’ve seen addressed in other movies, but the key difference here is that it’s looked at through a semi-futuristic lens. This comedy/drama from director Jake Schreier is a smart and well made picture that may not instantly call you back for a second viewing, but it will touch your heart and make you laugh. And on those two merits alone, it’s easy to call “Robot & Frank” a success.
But there is more to the movie than just that. In fact what originally drew me to the picture was that it offered a starring vehicle for Frank Langella. I’ve always been a big fan of his and consider him one of the more underrated actors. At age 75 he’s no longer Hollywood’s prime target age for lead roles (unfortunately) so it was a nice surprise to see him here. He’s joined by Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, and Peter Sarsgaard who supplies some really fun voice work.
In the not too distant future, Langella plays an elderly man reasonably named Frank who lives by himself in upstate New York. Frank is starting to see his health deteriorate particularly through early signs of dementia. His son Hunter (Marsden) lives five hours away and he’s grown tired of the weekly trips to see his father. Frank’s daughter Madison (Tyler) is an ‘out there’ activist who occasionally checks on her father via video phone. Their entire family dynamic is fractured due to some past baggage and Frank’s health issues force them all to deal with it. But it takes a little prodding before anyone is willing to do that.
Hunter’s solution for caring for his father is to provide him with a robot caregiver who will cook, clean, and watch over him. Frank hates the idea and does everything he can to discourage the robot. But he begins to grow fond of it after this man and machine make an interesting connection. Frank begins sharing memories of his past jobs to his robot. Now Frank’s job was no ordinary job. He wasn’t a carpenter, a truck driver, or a lawyer. Frank was a thief and actually spent time in prison for it. Before long he begins to see some new possibilities with his robot friend, possibilities that may not be the wisest.
You may think you know where this movie is going but the path it takes is an unconventional one. That’s what sets it apart from so many other movies that deal with these subjects. Langella is fantastic and he gives us an endearing and genuinely sympathetic character. He grumbles and growls in some scenes while in others he masterfully portrays a man in mental decline. It’s a beautiful performance and he’s the force that really drives this picture. Sarandon appears as a local librarian. She’s very good and I have to say some of my favorite scenes are when she and Langella are sharing the screen together.
“Robot & Frank” is a small movie built around a tight script and Frank Langella’s strong work. It’s humor is often subtle but always effective and the emotionally meaty undercurrent really worked for me. Now, as I mentioned, I wouldn’t say this is a film that I want to rush out and see again. It’s just not that kind of movie for me. But I won’t deny the film of the praise it deserves. It accomplishes a lot by taking a few weighty subjects and taking them on in new creative ways. That’s something I really appreciate and responded to.
VERDICT – 4 STARS