In the near future, Frank (Frank Langella) is an elderly ex-jewel thief, long-divorced, living alone after having done significant jail time and what he is losing in memory, he is gaining in grumpiness. His one activity consists of walking into town where he exchanges books at the library and is apparently the only patron. He also chats with Jennifer the librarian (Susan Sarandon), the sole friendly presence in the town, but is alternately charming and confused during their conversations. His grown-up children are becoming increasingly concerned about his well-being, and while Madison (Liv Tyler) is doing good in Turkmenistan so can only call home when there’s a decent network connection, Hunter (James Marsden) drives the ten hour round trip once a week to check up on his father – missing out on spending time with his own kids in the process.
Weary of the ritual and aware his dad needs more help than he can give, Hunter buys Frank a robot health assistant, much to Frank’s disgust. However, eventually Frank realises the robot (sporting a perfectly pitched voice courtesy of Peter Sarsgaard) has more uses than enforcing a healthy diet on him and so begins an unlikely friendship… that is, if such a thing is possible.
This film, the debut feature from director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford, does broach the question of what constitutes “being alive” but fails to challenge the viewer anywhere near as much as it could. Instead, what the makers have achieved is a sweet, funny and sad portrait of ageing and how it affects not just the ager but also those around them. Running in tandem are the heist aspects of the film, as Frank returns to his old profession, which are smartly scripted and while no Ocean’s Eleven, are fun to see. But it’s also touched on how Frank’s “work” and his commitment to it affected his family life in the past and how they colour his relationships in the present.
Frank Langella is wonderful in his portrayal of a man who drifts from sharply able to confused and forgetful and while his children can sometimes seem a little two dimensional, they’re capable of surprising you too. Susan Sarandon is an absolute picture of patience, while Jeremy Strong is entertainingly ridiculous as the yuppie neighbour who’s “re-imagining the library experience”. With a suitably soft colour palette, this is a gentle and enjoyable film that’s easy to get lost in for 90 minutes – it’s left me feeling really quite affectionate about it. I also like how Frank’s adult children have popular names of babies today, it’s not hard to imagine us all with robot assistants in a few decades – just stay for the credits and see examples of what real robots today are doing.
All the screenings of Robot & Frank are now over but happily, it has an expected release date of 8th March 2013.