If Amour and Trouble With The Curve didn’t float your OAP boat, how about this for a pitch – Frank Langella goes on crime spree with adorable robotic butler. That may sound more like something Michael Bay would direct, but fear not, Robot & Frank is less concerned with blowing shit up and more comfortable with gentle humour, heartfelt observations and robots that make funnies.
Living in the ‘near future’, 70-year-old Frank (Langella) is having problems with his memory. Residing alone in an isolated wood-side house, his place is a tip and his grown-up kids only seem to communicate with him via the TV-phone. When he refuses to move into a ‘memory centre’ (read: retirement home), Frank’s son (James Marsden) comes up with an innovative solution: give dad a robot butler.
A hi-tech humanoid with the voice of Peter Sarsgaard, the ’bot wastes no time putting Frank on both a schedule and a diet. Though Frank is initially annoyed at the intrusion (“That thing is gonna murder me in my sleep”), he soon finds a use for the robot as an accomplice in his latest jewel heist.
Admittedly, that last development is a bit of a stretch, but Robot & Frank pulls it off thanks to its infectious, knowing sense of fun. It’s a ‘what if’ for anybody with grumpy old grandparents, and the film offers a frighteningly realistic glimpse at a future where people are even more tech-reliant than they are now. With a nostalgic backward glance, Robot & Frank serves up micro-cars, see-through phones and symphonic orchestras that are scarily plausible.
Tech aside, Langella’s the real marvel here. Acting for the most part against nothing more than an emotionless mannequin, he’s fantastic, playing the cantankerous old man (think Up’s Mr Fredricksen minus the soft edges) with surprising sensitivity. And though first-time feature director Jake Schreier keeps the tone light, he never lets us forget that Frank is mentally fragile – a fact that’s given unexpected poignancy when Frank realises he’ll have to erase his robot’s memory as it’s evidence of his planned heist.
At its core, though, Robot & Frank is a fantastic futuristic buddy caper with an inexhaustibly quotable script (by Comedy Central scribe Christopher D. Ford). It’s full of lovely ideas (check out the scene in which Frank’s robot attempts to parlay with Susan Sarandon’s retro library ’bot), meaning that though Robot & Frank has an android at its centre, its heart is definitely in the right place. 4/5
Via Grolsch Film Works