In the end, the film felt like it set its aspirations bit too low, but if you are willing to do the same, it can be a tolerable light spirited film.
Robot & Frank
Robot & Frank is a sentimental buddy-movie between two unlikely people; well, technically just one as the other is a robot as the title suggests. It is a simple story that aims to entertain and satisfy the audience rather than explore some of the serious issues it introduces. In the end, the film felt like it set its aspirations bit too low, but if you are willing to do the same, it can be a tolerable light spirited film.
Set in Cold Spring, New York in the near future, an older man named Frank (Frank Langella) is slowly showing signs of dementia. Frank is an ex-jewel thief who still stores most of his valuables in a secret safe behind a picture on the wall of his house where he resides alone. Because he absolutely refuses to go to a “brain center” or any kind of retirement home, Frank’s son Hunter (James Marsden) decides to get his father a robot to help him out around the house, like a butler.
To say that Frank is very put-off by his new robot would be a gross understatement. At first, he does not believe the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) will benefit him at all and figures it might just murder him in his sleep. Beyond just the fact that Frank is an elder who is resisting to rely on new technologies, a common thing among older people, but embracing this new butler also means that Frank would indirectly admit that he has a problem and needs help, which he does not believe he has. On his side for political reasons, is his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) who plays a hippie that is opposed of robot slavery. But his view changes when Frank looks at the robot as an accomplice rather than a caretaker.
Because Frank has no choice but to accept the robot, he does so by putting it to work for him, just not in the way Hunter envisioned. Frank begins to teach the robot on how to assist him on his future heists by showing the robot how to pick locks and how to bypass traditional security measures. Just as they start to form a bond together, an opportunity arises where the pair can put their teamwork to use. A librarian that Frank has had his eye on for a while named Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) is distraught when the new library owner decides all of the books will be replaced with digital additions. Some view the plan to recycle all of the traditional books as throwing them away, thus Frank has his robot go to work to “save” one that means a lot to Jennifer.
The frustrating part about Robot & Frank is how the film chose to stay within the lines and playing out exactly how you think it will. It is essentially a classic tale of a stubborn man who wants nothing to do with his new robot but eventually befriends it and defends it when threatened to be taking away. The problem is there was more potential in Christopher Ford’s script that was severely underused. Dependency on technology, political views on robot slaves, and the demise of text-book literacy were all hinted at, but unfortunately, not fully explored.
Frank Langella appears in every scene, and handles the task well for the most part. Some of his lines feel a little off at times, like when he says the robot is “cramping his style”. The rest of the cast is too clichéd to be memorable. Jeremy Strong who plays the villain of the new snobby library owner, comes off as a laughable character who probably was not intended to be. Strong is almost always over-the-top with his delivery and is more distracting than anything else.
Because the film holds your hand the entire way through – something that it could have deviated from at times – Robot & Frank ends up largely being a film that was too carefully setup and executed to be anything beyond a safe crowd pleaser. But since being a crowd pleasing film was the intention of the film, it cannot be faulted for carrying out its design. The aim to leave the audience satisfied is evident throughout but especially in the end where a plot twist could have been worked as a bone-chilling yet emotional impacting moment that the film instead opts to keep low-key and lighthearted. Changing the direction that the film should have gone would be labeled as a personal preference; and one that I would have preferred.