Robot & Frank REVIEW

Robot & Frank film review.

“How the hell do I get BBC Two on this thing?”

Release Date: 8 March 2013
12A | 89 minutes
Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Director: Jake Schreier
Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard

And the prize for the least imaginative movie title of the year goes to… Robot & Frank not only focuses on the double act of a robot and a character called Frank, its leading man is called Frank in real-life. Absolutely nothing ambiguous there. Fortunately it seems that the time, energy and creativity left unused by the naming department have been redirected elsewhere, to make an inventive and surprisingly touching near-future tale about an unconventional friendship.

The ever-reliable Frank Langella plays the Frank half of the equation to perfection. He’s a retired jewel thief who’s starting to have problems with his memory, so son Hunter (former X-Man James Marsden) takes the only logical course of action and buys him a robot home help. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

The robot is utterly convincing because it’s so basic. Its face is blank and emotionless, it moves awkwardly, and where you’d expect sleek, iDevice-like lines, instead it’s built from boxy, flimsy-looking plastic. It’s remarkable that the filmmakers managed to get so much out of something that looks so cheap, with dancer Rachael Ma putting in a brilliantly understated performance in the suit. That said, you’ve got to wonder why any manufacturer would give an AI the HAL 9000-like tones of Peter Sarsgaard. Have these people never seen 2001?

As Frank gradually comes to accept his new housemate, he convinces the machine to become his new partner in crime – old habits die hard, it seems. Here the movie could have been played as broad comedy, but ends up morphing into something way more satisfying. Sure, there are lines of dialogue that amuse, but Robot & Frank is more interested in exploring how the robot reawakens something in Frank and subsequently improves his condition.

First-time director Jake Schreier barely puts a foot wrong in terms of tone, only losing his way with a way-too-broad neighbour out to get Frank (think Artie Ziff out of The Simpsons), and a slightly jarring twist at the end. That the movie was a big hit at last year’s Sundance festival should tell you everything else you need to know. Robot & Frank is the quintessential indie movie, from the big-name stars acting small to the quirky story and lo-fi score. More importantly, it’s a small but perfectly formed tale with plenty to say about the nature of friendship.

Richard Edwards

Watch some Robot & Frank clips.
Watch the Robot & Frank trailer.