ROBOT & FRANK – The Review
Here’s a flick that opened with little fanfare. It may be tough to find, but it’s certainly worth the effort. I mentioned it to some friends, and I could almost hear their eyes roll when I told them the title over the phone, ” Yeah, that’s right. It’s called ROBOT & FRANK . No, really.”. I’m sure they imagined a zany, hi-tech buddy movie. Summing up the plot probably didn’t change their minds. But it’s a surprisingly moving, warm little character study with a top-notch performance at its center. Basically it’s perfect little film to watch on a rainy day. Or any kind of day, really. I just hope it gets a little love from the year-end best lists and award nominations.
As the film opens, we’re told it’s the near future ( not the far future like TV’s ” The Jetsons ” with their flying cars ). Frank ( Frank Langella ) is an ex-con ( did a couple stretches for burglary ) living alone in his old two-story country house in the woods of New York state. His marriage ended long ago and his kids, Hunter ( James Marsden ) and Madison ( Liv Tyler ) have grown and left the nest. But Hunter is concerned because Frank is losing the battle against senility ( or perhaps Alzheimer’s ). Frank doesn’t keep the place clean or eat right. The only exercise he gets is from strolling into town to flirt with the pretty librarian Jennifer ( Susan Sarandon ). So, there’s no way that he’s gonna move out and live in one of those assisted care places. So, Hunter presents Frank with the gift of a service robot, a VGC-6OL ( performed by Rachael Ma, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard ). The little bot cleans, cooks, and nags Frank ( ” It is time to get up.” ” Let’s start a garden” ). Frank’s annoyed til he realizes that the bot is the perfect accomplice. He’ll convince the bot that it would be great therapy and exercise to do a ” job ” . Seems that Frank has some new yuppie neighbors with a taste for jewelry. At last, Frank is back in ” the game”!
Has it really been 35 years since Langella made the ladies swoon as the cape-twirling immortal Count on Broadway ( and then starring on the screen in 1979′s DRACULA ) ? At an age when most actors are eyeing retirement, he’s doing some of his best screen work ( FROST / NIXON ). Now add his addled, cat burglar to his list of recent triumphs. This guy is not going gently into that good night. He’s regretful, bored, but mostly angry at the hand fate has dealt him. You can see the confusion on his face as he realizes that his brain has failed him yet again. He longs for his outlaw days, even using phrases straight from a 1930′s Warner Brothers gangster flick ( ” Crackerjack! ” ” What a maroon! ” ). We can’t help but root for him as he decides to go for one last big score. He’s briefly lifted out of the fog by this mechanical Felix Ungar. And Frank develops real affection for the squirt. Langella’s skill brings out the best in all the actors that share the screen with him. There’s a couple of TV stars that have great bits with the cantankerous con ( won’t name them, so you’ll also be delightfully surprised ). This is Marsden’s second film as Langella’s son ( 2006′s SUPERMAN RETURNS ) and the two have a great rapport. He’s frustrated with his old man, but still has a lot of affection for the stubborn cuss. Tyler also has a great time with Langella as Frank’s globe-trotting Daddy’s girl. And Sarandon is her usual charming self as the local gal enjoying ( and encouraging ) Frank’s flirtations. There’s no big flashy CGI effects that detract from this film’s simple laid-back charms ( a weird car, clear picture phones, etc. ). ROBOT & FRANK is a film that warms the heart and tickles the funny bone. If Frank can warm up to this household tech aid, then maybe the future ( or near future ) will be a pretty nice place.
4.5 Out of 5