I’ve tried to see ‘Robot & Frank’ several times before this week at other local film festivals without much luck. For whatever reason the world didn’t want me seeing the movie at those particular moments. When I saw that the film would be playing the LA Film Festival I jumped online and applied for press immediately. As luck would have it my application went through and I put this movie on my calendar first. All the waiting and anticipation seemed to raise my expectations to points that could have been disastrous. What 2012 has proved to me thus far is that you can’t really count on anything these days. Lucky for me, not only was I not let down, but I think I may have found my new favorite film of 2012.
For the first time in many years, 2011 was a good year for small films on my personal lists. ‘Drive’ topped my year end list with Woody Allen right on its heels. In years past most of my favorite films have been big Hollywood pictures. There’s nothing wrong with that but since I’ve started writing regularly for two sites, I’ve found myself growing up a bit and becoming much more critical about films than I ever have before. My personal tastes have changed and I’ve seen a rise in the belief that not only is less more, but it’s all about quality over quantity. A perfect example of that is ‘Robot and Frank’
Frank, played to utter perfection by Frank Langella, is an ailing ex-con. He is losing his memory and, since he lives alone, his children are worried for his health and safety. He’s got a routine and he likes it that way. Unable to convince their father to live in a home, Hunter and Madison (James Marsden and Liv Tyler respectively) buy him a caretaker robot to oversee their fathers’ well-being. As any curmudgeon would respond, Frank hates the idea and asserts that he doesn’t need a baby sitter. It’s not until Frank wakes to a clean house and fresh meals everyday that he begins to see the benefit. Frank is an old school guy in a changing world and having a robot as a companion was not on his lists of wants. However, when he learns that the library he visits everyday, not always for the books, is getting rid of all it’s literature in exchange for a “social experience” lounge, he’s pushed over the edge. You see, Frank used to be jewel thief and this new robot passes no judgment on his old profession. In fact, Frank convinces the robot to help him “save” a rare print of Don Quixote from the library before they send it away.
The film is extremely witty and grounded in a reality that’s not too far fetched. Langella is effortless and makes acting with a robot look easy. Their dialogue with each other makes the film a hilarious buddy comedy. Their actions make it a heist film but at the center is this wonderful and believable relationship filled with humor and drama. Frank doesn’t have a meaningful relationship with his kids or his ex-wife and this is the first time in a long time, weather he likes it or not, that he’s managed to really connect with someone, or something. Peter Sarsgaard lends his very soothing voice to the robot and you feel a real bond between these two very different creations that a lot of other films can’t achieve.
Unlike the guys over at The Film Stage, whom I respect, I think the world director Jake Schreier (this is his first feature) creates is perfect for this particular story. There are obvious elements of sci-fi in the film but they are subtle and believable. I mean, the title suggest enough but the film also opens with an ‘in the near future’ time stamp. So unlike ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Minority Report’, the world looks surprisingly like the one we currently occupy, with technology that appears only a few years off. At the end of the day their gripe with the film is perfectly acceptable, while a bit nitpicky for my tastes, but it’s my honest opinion that the film is not about any of that. While it’s fun to see indie films use a good chunk of their budget on fun showy tech, the movie is about connections and relationship, be they human or not.