Robot & Frank (2013)

Robot and FrankIn the near future, robots have been incorporated into everyday life. Unable to juggle weekly visits to struggling father Frank (Frank Langella) with his work and family commitments, Hunter (James Marsden) invests in a robot companion to keep the old man company and help to delay his descent into dementia. While Frank’s new gadget guardian would like to structure his days with regular meals and exercise, however, he has something very different in mind; an ex-convict and retired cat-burglar, Frank would rather steal an antique copy of Don Quixote from his local library to woo the friendly librarian (Susan Sarandon) who works there.

Space operas and doomsday scenarios are all very well and good, but we all know that science fiction is at its best when highlighting ordinary human concerns in extraordinary contexts. First-time feature director Jake Schreier, working from a Christopher Ford script, does wonders with his minimal budget, creating a future that is believable but never threatens to overshadow the human drama at its centre. The filmmakers have clearly done their research, and Frank’s robot is perfectly convincing as a piece of artificial intelligence.

But it is just a machine — a deux ex machina, to be precise — designed to keep Frank from losing the plot. Langella does all of the heavy lifting in his leading role. Whereas other actors’ performances might have been dominated by the character’s dementia, Langella plays the role with a curmudgeonly charm and wry effervescence that stops the subject matter from becoming unbearably hopeless and overbearing. It helps that he’s a reluctantly retired cat-burglar, allowing for much-needed lapses into ridiculousness and fun. In fact, the structure provided by this subplot works to keep audiences as sane as the robot’s charge.

Although largely sidelined into supporting roles, Marsden, Tyler and Sarandon each manage to make an impression in their respective roles. Alzheimer’s Disease, and dementia in general, are disorders that don’t just devastate the lives of those diagnosed, but the lives of their families and friends too. Nobody defaults to melodrama, however, and their interactions with Frank are rarely allowed to descend into sentiment. Marsden in particular impresses as son Hunter, a successful attourney with a family of his own who is still a student in his father’s eyes. Tyler, meanwhile, is slightly less irritating than normal as daughter Madison, a philanthropist who wants to help, but can’t.

A sweet but not-too-sentimental story about old age and friendship, Robot & Frank is a pleasant sci-fi drama that’s elevated by a novel premise and a perfectly-judged central performance. While in other hands a final twist might have seemed contrived, Schreier’s honest and studied approach sells it almost completely.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Robot & Frank (2013)

  1. Pingback: April 2013 – You’re all going to die tonight | popcornaddict

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