An odd, captivating couple
Forget the latest version of the iPhone. The model VGC-60L robot butler that concerned son (James Marsden) gifts to his aging, memory-challenged father (Frank Langella) in the film “Robot & Frank” makes Siri look positively prehistoric. Hunter wants to help his irascible pop, who lives alone in a rural woodland area “sometime in the near future” near Cold Spring, New York.
At first, Frank will have nothing to do with this five foot tall, politely spoken (as voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) automaton, whom he fears will “murder him in his sleep.”
Prodding him to “work with me,” the robot begins to win over the divorced former cat burglar by encouraging him to garden while delivering perfectly created, healthy meals.
And so proceeds this little gem of a movie about aging and obsolescence that is also a very modest sci-fi cautionary tale that doesn’t rely on garish gadgets to be absolutely convincing within its own technological framework.
Langella is simply perfect here, adept a being a sympathetic (and occasionally wickedly funny) character, while a master manipulator lurks just below his cantankerous temperament. A testament to the well-written script by Christopher Ford and two siblings, and sharp direction by newcomer Jake Schreier, is how the film’s final act will divide some audiences and provide plenty of post film discussion.
Adding to the superb, small ensemble is a still luminous Susan Sarandon as Jennifer, who works in the town library which is about to become digitized, and is likely the only person for whom Frank seems to have genuine feelings. Frank is also somewhat kind to his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), who checks in on him occasionally by satellite transmission.
A moment toward the end of the film with Frank and Jennifer alone while recapturing a lost memory is positively spellbinding as each character has a completely different and absolutely authentic reaction.
If veteran actors like Langella and Sarandon have to work in small, low budget films like this that don’t get the publicity or press of bigger studio offerings, so be it. That doesn’t mean their exceptional work goes unnoticed, and hopefully, during Oscar time, duly recognized.
Regardless, “Robot & Frank,” is sly, wry and entertaining.
Rated PG-13 for language (including 1 “F” word).