Each year my dream is to attend the Sundance Film Festival and each year I fail to make this trip a reality. But I do make a point to find out which films are getting buzz. Before wining the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, I had made a note to try and see Robot & Frank, if it got picked up and released.
Well, Robot & Frank was picked up at Sundance 2012 by Samuel Goldwyn Films; and the Philadelphia Film Society acquired a screening (Members Only) before its August 24th release date.
I think most of us who watched The Jetsons as a kid, figured by the year 2012 we’d all have a Rosie the Robot to help us with chores and child rearing, and most importantly, she’d be like part of the family. Sadly, although we rely heavily on technology, this family robot way of life doesn’t exactly seem to be right around the corner. But it is the concept behind this sci-fi-lite film by first time filmmaker Jake Schreier and writer Christopher Ford. They have envisioned a “near future” where robots make for handy librarians, healthcare workers, assistants and such.
Frank (Frank Langella) lives alone in an Upper State New York looking setting. The film opens with what appears to be a break-in of some sort – flashlight settles on a framed photograph taken outdoors of a man in his mid to late 40’s with two children, boy and girl. The picture is dropped and smashed, the “intruder” leaves the scene. Later we realize this was Frank in his own home; it’s the first indication of what Frank used to do for a living, and one of the hints that Frank’s showing early signs of Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
Frank’s son Hunter (James Marsden) drives up once a week to check on his father. It’s a major inconvenience in his schedule and each time he realizes his father is failing a little more; not only is the house a mess, but Frank tends to refer to things that have long since past. Hunter’s solution for the time being, a Robot healthcare/helper to look after his father.
The conflict – Frank hates the idea, maintaining that the robot will kill him in his sleep. It’s further complicated by Frank’s crunchy granola daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), who is strongly against robot labor, which we gather is a social controversy of this age, still being debated.
Ultimately, the movie becomes a buddy comedy as Frank realizes the robot is capable of being the best cat burglar sidekick he could ever imagine, and convinces Robot that planning a heist will be a good form of therapy for improving his memory and well-being. Despite the Robot’s ability to analyze risk, the job, which involves human librarian and object of Frank’s affection, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), goes awry.
Langella is in his element as an irascible, former thief. And I was touched by the poignant moment when Frank must consider erasing the robot’s memory, which not only means wiping out a friend, but also hits too close to home.
Le Anne Lindsay
Tinsel & Tine
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