Apparently in the near future almost everyone will have their very own robot butlers to do everything from house cleaning to the weekly shopping. An independent hit on the festival circuit, it is impossible not to like this movie from debut director Jake Schreier. The wonderful Oscar nominated Frank Langella plays Frank, a retired cat burglar who specialized in jewels, now living alone in the cottage house leafy surrounds of upstate New York. In the early stages of dementia, Frank seems to be doing OK on his own even if he is quite untidy. The house is a mess; cupboards are bare with dinner plates that are rarely washed. Visiting the local library is a much higher priority. Hunter (James Marsden), his distant son, visits fortnightly but is never happy with his father’s scruffy standard of living. On one of these regular checkups, Hunter may have his own underlying intentions, but brings with him a gift, a personal robot companion. The grumpy and resentful Frank is not keen on the white mechanical contraption at all. However under protest, it stays but Frank attempts to switch it off the minute Hunter leaves.
Stealing is still not out of Frank’s system, satisfying his kleptomania by sneaking off with small soaps from the town’s general store before casing out a neighbor’s house affiliated with the sudden changes to his library. Over time, Robot and Frank become inseparable; the pair becomes friends and eventual partners to Frank’s ever present schemes which include a heist of some antique books in order to give away to his friend Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). Book lady librarian Jennifer will grow on you in more ways than one and is part of a particular twist to this charming story that I am not giving away here.
Part science fiction, part dramatic buddy movie, this is an unexpected film which will keep you mesmerized with delight. It’s slow by choice which works. The Alzheimer’s moments are handled with care and clarity. Langella is captivating; his reactions to the wordy merchant, super well-behaved Robot are priceless and not once condescending. With his beloved local library threatening to close due to advances in technology, this serves as a metaphor of his new found relationship with the mechanical mate.
The mellow dulcet tones of Peter Sarsgaard (An Education, Jarhead) voices Robot with Hal 9000 mannerisms that will make fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey reminisce. An extremely amusing moment occurs when Frank’s Robot meets the library Robot, an inferior model. Think when Wall. E meets Eve. Essentially only a cameo, Liv Tyler (Empire Records) returns to her father’s aide, his world-travelling daughter pops into the house to take over from Robot, but that doesn’t last long. Special mention must be made to young thespian Rachel Ma, the mini actress and a trooper who was inside Robot and responsible for his unique human traits, bravo.
Friendship of the heart representing life is the crux of proceedings, revolving around the similarities of Frank’s human memory to Robot’s artificial memory makes this film irresistible. Stay on during the credits for some images of the filmmaking process. Track down this limited release, take a road trip to go watch it, you will not be disappointed.
Robot & Frank is now playing in select theaters.
Shane A. Bassett is a contributor for TheYoungFolks.com. Read more about him on our Partners & Contributors page.