running time: 89 min
writer: Christopher D. Ford
director: Jake Schreier
select cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Rachael Ma (Robot performer), Peter Sarsgaard (Robot voice)
Review (text version)
“How come all the films you review are such downers?”
quizzes Tamsin-Marie of Dubbo, and,
“Hey man, bleak movies all the time? Give us a break!”
whines Tim from Mt Gambier.
Well dear correspondents, to fulfill your shallow need for jollies here is a feel good buddy movie – just insert batteries!
Confession time, Robot and Frank is my favourite movie of 2012. Damn me if you must but I stand by that. So, who else has seen it?
The reviews were good, it screened at Sundance to applause and then… well, is Sundance really about feel good movies? Then no major distributor seemed willing to put the twenty or so million behind it to promote it so that people like you might even know the film existed. End result is a grinning delight of a movie from boot-up to log-out that “slipped right between the cracks” of public attention!
Frank Langella plays a grumpy, retired, aging man, with hints of dementia… or is it just forgetfulness from too much time on his hands and the resultant boredom?
Download one concerned adult son, James Marsden, who provides Frank with something every aging, bored Dad wants and needs – no, not a free hip replacement or a weekend with a high class hooker – it’s a domestic “cook dinner, clean the house” type Robot called… robot. It’s kinda like Shirley Booth in Hazel but minus the biting come backs, in fact Robot lacks even the most basic social skills. Polite, oh yes but so dull.
Of course grumpy old Frank immediately rejects new toy, “That thing is gonna murder me in my sleep.” but soon relaises Robot can be trained to assist in more creative ways than just polishing the door knobs and rearranging the fridge magnets.
Did I mention what sort of trade Frank is retired from? …and I won’t …. It’s not exactly legal and to his delight the Robot has little issue with becoming Frank’s apprentice, Old people love that thing of passing on their knowledge to the young with half empty hard drives, and Robot quickly responds and unintentionally initiates a career resurgence for Frank.
The old cowboy is back in his saddle with a most unlikely sidekick along for the ride.
OK I hear the emails pouring in already about “spoilers” but compared to what the official trailer for this film gave away, I have been very tight lipped.
Frank also has a soft spot for the local librarian, Jennifer, played by Susan Sarandon – and in this film she is just gorgeous, as she often is… I mean even even in stinker movies like the recent Tammy – not that I am here to trounce other films – but Melissa MacArthy… let’s leave it there. Susan Sarandon I love you! There, I said it.
Robot and Frank is set in a not too distant future and like the movie HER, we see a glimpse of where we might be in relating to advanced versions of technology we have right now. In the case of HER it’s a rather saucy relationship a guy has with his i-phone and in this film it’s about how a robot might interact with humans as a kind of companion protector. Actually, Robot is barely futuristic science fiction. He’s more like real science in just a few weeks from now.
Do a search on the Tubes of You for the current developments in robot technology and you will see things very closely resembling Frank’s co-star in action. Tomorrowland is maybe closer than you think.
Appearing in a support role as Frank’s daughter is Liv Tyler who’s usual pouty, doe eyed and slightly ethereal presence in films has always left me thinking – yeah, pretty but so what? Well Liv, you won me over here playing the most annoying character since John Goodman in The Big Lebowski.
Swanning in from helping poor people in a war torn somewhere else land, this unexpected system error decides to meddle in the really nice cross platform relationship Frank’s established with Robot. She’s sort of the Darth Vader to Frank’s Luke and Robot’s R2D2 and… OK maybe not… anyway well done Ms Tyler. I laughed out loud.
The script is solid, sets up it’s world very neatly and simply and sticks to its own boundaries of logic – OK, question mark surrounding how Robot gets into and out of cars – it’s a minor transgression, BUT, the ideas and action keep moving through a very neatly paced 90 minutes.
How often do we see movies that start off great and then sag in their third act – not here. The writer, director and editor were clearly aiming to keep the fun quota high and the energy flowing.
On a deeper level the film explores a lovely duality, or is it a triality? between Frank’s loss of memory, the loss of knowledge from Jennifer’s library in the form of books being “retired” and the delicate state of electronic memory that can be erased with one simple action. I won’t even try to describe how that plays out, but the blending of these ideas, and how each impacts on the other, is very neatly infused into the film and in a very organic way – it never feels forced.
The writer of the screenplay, Christopher Ford, in a Huff Post interview said,
“I really wanted the technology issue to be more open-ended… Technology can be incredibly positive, especially for our emotional well-being, as long as it lets us understand ourselves better.” and that certainly rings true here.
Now, I’ve introduced this film to around a dozen people and not one of them has come back with anything less than praise for it… it’s not perfect, there are few minor processing errors… but given it’s small scale and budget it has a huge heart and delivers on being full of sentiment but never sentimental.
Probably the portrayal of the Police officers – did they have to be quite so inept?
– A nice, tight script – well structured, intelligent, accessible, warm and funny – humour and pathos performing a lovely dance together
– Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon – they are both delightful to watch
A surprise ending I did not see coming and it had be smiling and teary simultaneously.
Warning, don’t watch the trailer first – it gives away far too much.
Robot & Frank…
Review © 2015 Greg Punch
Reference Blu-ray copy of film used for this review:
Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Australia)
© 2012 Hallowell House
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Stage G Films
White Heat Entertainment
Dog Run Pictures
Still of Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella sitting in empty library
© 2012 – Samuel GoldwynFilms / Stage 6 Films
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Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
“Our Story Begins”
“Danse Macabre – Big Hit 1”
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Honda ASIMO Robot in action
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