The film Robot & Frank never tells you exactly when it’s taking place, but in this near-future time, we’re at least one step closer to The Jetsons than we are now.
That is to say, it’s a time when robots are human substitutes that can cook, clean, and even work in the garden.
Look out, Rosie!
In the film, the titular Frank (Frank Langella) is given a robot companion by his children because Frank is in the early stages of dementia and he needs someone — or rather, something — to look after him.
Frank, a retired jewel thief, is at first resistant to this new caretaker (“That thing is going to murder me in my sleep,” he says). But eventually the two become friends.
Even better, Frank realizes he has a new ally who can’t distinguish between legal and illegal activities. So he plans two final scores — one to win the affections of a librarian (the ubiquitous Susan Sarandon), and the other to get back at the head of the library’s redevelopment effort — and trains the robot to play a role.
It’s a touchy-feely premise, to be sure, but Robot & Frank is thankfully not a cutesy movie about an old man and his robot friend who get up to no good.
All the credit for that goes to whoever thought to cast Langella. Frank is cranky, cantankerous, and a real curmudgeon, and Langella (who doesn’t seem like he could ever play a gentle, cuddly old man) plays him so effortlessly that it’s almost like he’s not even acting. Few actors could have played a character like this without winking at the camera, but Langella makes you fall for this character and believe in the relationship without such pandering.
Whereas other films and filmmakers might utilize technology and tricks to make their point, Robot & Frank’s charm is in its simplicity. Yes, writer Christopher D. Ford and director Jake Schreier, both first-time filmmakers, have some fun with the topic of old vs new, as the library and Frank grapple with new technology at the expense of old-fashioned things like printed books.
But with Langella at the center, this is a film that says no fancy effects or complicated storytelling is needed when you have a skilled actor working at the top of his game.
Langella makes Robot & Frank a real pleasure to watch. He’s the reason I’m giving the film a B+.