Review: Robot & Frank / Cert: 12A / Director: Jake Schreier / Screenplay: Christopher D. Ford / Starring: Frank Langella, Peter Sarsgaard, Susan Sarandon / Release Date: March 8th 2013
The times they are a-changin’ and grumpy ex-jewel thief Frank (Langella) is not coping with the influx of new technology and his deteriorating mind. Sometime in the near future robots are replacing humans and Frank has been given what he thinks is a robot butler by his son to help out around the house.
Though Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) is never given a name by Frank, he is humanised by him. Frank trains him to pick locks, making him an accomplice to some heists and eventually embracing him as a welcome companion – a buddy movie premise that works well, with the duo overcoming initial disagreements in a comical fashion, and Robot becoming the calm voice of reason to the frustrated and furious oldster, who does not react kindly to the discipline of a health regime implemented by the machine.
Sarsgaard has pure comic timing and the soothing tone of his voice is such that you can’t help but laugh when he delivers lines like “Do not molest me!” The chemistry between Frank and Robot is entirely winning, and works because of the strong central performance from Langella, his cantankerous charm contrasting nicely with Sarsgaard’s deadpan humour. In this he's helped by a well-written script that does not patronise but instead explores the pair's odd-couple relationship in a thoughtful manner. There is also keen direction from Jake Schreier, who plays with physical comedy to great effect - a robot, with a hoodie on, popping his head out of foliage is just a funny thing to behold!
Frank spends much time at the library, quenching his thirst for knowledge and flirting with librarian Jennifer (Sarandon), who is due to be replaced by a bow-tie wearing box of a robot called Mr. Darcy. Meanwhile, the library itself is being transformed into an Abercrombie & Fitch-esque place of learning, with emphasis on style and youth appeal, by rich hipster Jake (whose character is the only flaw in the movie; a cartoon villain played with over-the-top malevolence).
Emulating the obsession with robots in various '80s movies, the film brings to mind Short Circuit, where friendship between man and machine is touching and a little cheeky. There are also hints of Silent Running, with Robot’s preoccupation with growing a garden and Frank’s desperation at preserving the artificial life source who has now become his friend. There is some great interplay between all of the characters, but an especially brilliant moment involves the meeting of Mr. Darcy and Robot, punctuated with the expression “I’m functioning normally” – a phrase that no human could ever use with a straight face.
There’s something extremely satisfying about watching a film that has put so much thought into what it is to suffer from dementia and begin to lose your memory. It questions what it is to be human in a sweet, smart and funny way. It will make you smile, laugh and perhaps shed a tear. A sci-fi comedy that brings all of its robotic parts together to make one big, heart-warming whole.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10