Robot & Frank
Is it impossible not to be charmed by a film about a retired cat burglar who becomes friends with his robot care taker, who then become burgling together? Almost. Especially in the capable hands of a man as talented as Frank Langella. It is he who plays the titular Frank. Robot is voiced by a HAL9000-sounding Peter Sarsgaard. Frank’s children are played by Liv Tyler and James Marsden, and he has a marginal romantic admiration for a local librarian, a wispy and endearing Susan Sarandon.
Blanketed by a sort of blanket immunity of taking place in “the near future,” things are only subtly different. Skype is become a bit more advanced, although internet connections seem to be no more reliable. Cars a skinnier, hairdos are just almost futuristic on the hip. Most marked is the invasion of a non-profit into Frank’s local library, led by a smarmy, rich neighbor of Frank’s, transforming it into a book-less, digital space more focused on providing a library “experience.”
Frank suffers a bit from memory problems, although the name of the ailment is never spoken. He can’t seem to remember his favorite diner went out of business, and he sometimes doesn’t recognize his children–most of the time he does. His daughter is a bleeding heart researching microfinance in Turkmenistan, and his son Hunter who lives fives hours away, is tired of making weekend trips to check up on the likable curmudgeon. It’s Hunter who brings Frank Robot, an artificially intelligent companion programmed to keep Frank’s health, physical and mental, as sharp as possible.
Frank sees Robot as a partner in crime, teaches him to pick locks, and explores Robot’s programming to see trustworthy he is. In the meantime, the two strike up a friendship as deep as one can have with a charming appliance. What’s not adorable about Frank Langella and a friendly robot getting into shenanigans together?
Director Jake Schreier keeps an even tone to the film, bringing a quiet humor and appeal to the entire story. But it’s Langella that lifts the film out of what could have been a less dynamic story. This light and breezy tone also works against it. There were moments where the story briefly brushes up against something authentically emotional moments. For one reason or another, they were never fully explored to keep things moving. The film also failed to define one too many things as well. The relationship and character of Frank’s family remain a bit of a mystery through to the credits. It’s never quite clear how clever Frank or Robot actually is. Science fiction enthusiasts could probably argue about the real rules that Robot should have been restricted to, but didn’t. These complaints aside, Robot & Frank is an appealing, quiet film that feels about right for the end of the summer.