Your age may be the deciding factor as to whether you define “Robot & Frank” as a drama or comedy. Writer Christopher D. Ford and director Jake Schreier are young lads while the lead, a retired cat burglar played by Frank Langella, is 74.
The younger generation will be attracted to the realistic advances in near-future technology. The movie is set in a time when it will be commonplace to own a robot that will cook, clean, and carry your groceries. Phones and tablets are transparent and libraries are a curiosity of the past.
Susan Sarandon plays the patient and friendly librarian. In the actress’s words, “It’s a really sweet courtship that goes on between them. I like that romanticized idea that these people are living in what is now basically an amusement park for books.” Sarandon’s part is relatively small but, as usual, her charisma jumps off the screen. Sarandon said, “During the scenes I wasn’t in, it was cool to hang out and watch, to see how they were doing the robot.”
The endearing robot was designed by Alterian FX in Los Angeles. Justin Ouellette designed the user interfaces for the film. The robot was voiced by Peter Sarsgaard and worn by actress-dancer Rachel Ma. “The poor girl was roasting,” Langella said. “When I was 100 degrees, she had to be 120.”
There’s a heavy emotional tug for those in their fifties and up. Watching an elderly man entering early stages of dementia is sad. Frank’s children, Hunter (James Marsden), and Madison (Liv Tyler), are worried sick and rightfully so. When Hunter brings his dad a robotic caregiver, he’s met with nothing but resistance from crotchety Frank.
Those in middle age will be concerned with the weighty topic of caring for an aging parent, and senior citizens will be watching their own fears.
The cast is excellent, and so is the script. Director Schreier pulled off a great feat by keeping the film low budget—and without it appearing to be.
Langella said, “You just hit the ground running in a movie like this. There’s no time to be a diva, no time for, ‘Can’t we redo a take?’ No time to redo hair.”
“It was thrilling when Frank signed on,” said Schreier. “He wanted to meet with me, and the writer. His words were, ‘I had to make sure you kids aren’t making some silly robot movie.’”
No, silly it is not. It’s quirky, fun, emotionally stirring and safe to take the kiddies to.
“Robot & Frank” opens this Friday, August 17, 2012 in select theaters. In NYC it is playing at City Cinemas Paris Theatre, 4 West 58th Street. Rated PG. 90 minutes.