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Robot and Frank

Robot and Frank

What She said:

She

Imagine a not-too-distant world where robots can also serve as our caregivers.  They’re slightly above basic, but do not have any emotions of their own.  This actually makes them pretty good at taking care of day-to-day tasks for those in need, whether they be the elderly or sick.  Robot and Frank explores this notion, and what happens when an unlikely partnership forms between a lonely man and the robot tasked with keeping him out of trouble.

Let me tell you a little bit about Frank.  He’s not the best guy.  He’s a former thief who has had a very hard time kicking the habit.  The rest of his family is aware that he had this problem, but they don’t seem to fully grasp his current state.  Frank has been living by himself, and mostly taking care of himself.  But he’s become a nuisance to the community, and continues to engage in petty theft.  More alarming is the fact that his mind seems to be failing him, and he often cannot remember what year it is or who people are.  His son, Hunter, frequently makes a 10 hour trip to visit and make sure that Frank is ok, while his daughter, Madison, is busy jet-setting across the globe doing good work for others.  Hunter and Frank have a strained relationship, and when Hunter isn’t around, Frank seems to be in a funk.  His only solace comes from the local library, where he has befriended the librarian, Jennifer.

With Frank’s situation deteriorating, Hunter ponies up the big bucks to buy his father a care robot.  The robot is pre-programmed to offer assistance to Frank, even with things as simple as cleaning and cooking.  He also uses techniques that are aimed at improving Frank’s health.  This includes getting Frank on a regular schedule to help with his memory.  At first, Frank is totally against the robot.  He certainly does not believe he needs the help.  But he realizes that the robot offers some advantages—albeit illegal ones—and decides to utilize it for them.  The result is a rather unlikely friendship that forms between Frank and the robot, although things obviously cannot remain magical forever.

Robot and Frank

Frank is a pretty lonely guy.  And worse than that, he doesn’t realize that his mental situation has grown quite bad.  In fact, when you first meet Frank, you’ll also have a hard time determining how far gone he is.  I went back and forth with it several times.  But you certainly can tell that he needs someone around—if for no other reason than that he needs a little socialization.  Frank is not a super fella, but I did grow to like him.  He had an old guy spark to him, and even though he did some totally illegal stuff, he was just trying to keep himself entertained. 

What I enjoyed about this movie was watching the relationship form between Frank and the robot.  Now, this bond is, for the most part, one directional, as the robot is just a programmed entity.  There are times when you may think otherwise, but the bottom line is that he’s simply running a bunch of code for directives set up for him.  But he sure knows how to cook.  Frank tries to shut out the robot, but it’s clear that he needs someone around for companionship, and that’s the real reason why he begins his capers with the bot.  I mean, yeah, Frank clearly likes to start trouble and still yearns for his former days of burglarizing glory, but I think, more than anything, he just wants someone to do things with.  The robot fills the role perfectly. 

This film offers some light comedy and a little romance with tragic undertones.  There’s a lot of resentment within Frank’s family, and when you find out the true degree of Frank’s current state it’s…well…depressing.  Kudos to Frank Langella (Frank), Susan Sarandon (Jennifer the Librarian), James Marsden (Hunter), and Liv Tyler (Madison) for all putting is very good performances.  Peter Sarsgaard voices the robot, and manages to add enough inflection to make the viewer question just how cognizant the bot is. 

At one hour and thirty minutes, this movie is just the right length.  It doesn’t go too deep into anything but offers a fascinating character study.  I enjoyed watching an unlikely friendship unfold.

Thumbs up

Robot and Frank

What He said:

He

Frank (Frank Langella) is an aging ex-con who lives alone. He did a total of sixteen years in prison as a result of his career as a burglar. He never fully kicked the habit. When he goes into town, he goes into small shops and steals things – very small and insignificant things that hold no real value, but enable him to continue to feed his impulse.

Robot and Frank

He also appears to be suffering from some form of dementia. He has been able to take care of himself up until this point, but things are getting more difficult. He isn’t taking care of himself or his house as much as he would be in an ideal world. He really shouldn’t be walking into town by himself either, something his son points out when he makes the trek to his father’s house and finds him walking in the middle of the road.

Speaking of his son, Hunter (James Marsden) makes the 10 hour drive to his father’s house every weekend. He cleans up a bit, cooks him a couple of meals, and pleads with his father to go into a home specializing in patients with dementia. Frank, of course, refuses, but this time Hunter is prepared.

Hunter has purchased his father a robot. The robot  (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) serves as a companion, can cook, clean, and also serves as a healthcare provider. It’s never stated whether the robot is a suitable replacement for a doctor in an emergency situation, but he seems to know enough about Frank’s condition to be able to treat it. It keeps a very tight schedule and comes up with a list of activities that are meant to stimulate Frank’s mind.

One day Frank inadvertently discovers the robot has a knack for lock picking. Frank gets the idea to use him in a series of heists. Being a robot, it is fully aware of the legal issues, and the kind of trouble that can get Frank in, but it has no moral issues with it, and is actually supportive of the heists, because it has been helping Frank’s memory. He’s not cure and not likely to be, but keeping his mind busy has definitely helped him function better. That and the fact that Frank doesn’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning anymore.

Frank’s daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) isn’t a fan the whole thing. She is something of a free spirit and does not like the idea of her father becoming dependent on this machine. She also has some sort of moral objection to the whole thing too.

Robot and Frank

There’s also a subplot that involves the local librarian, Jennifer. Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) is the last and only human being that works at the library. She has a robot assistant and the library is actually about to undergo a major overhaul. Someone has the bright idea to make it more trendy and futuristic. Frank likes to go to the library and borrow books and that’s just another thing he won’t be able to do anymore. He also likes Jennifer hanging out there because he likes Jennifer and wants to get to know her better.

I remember the first time I saw a picture for this movie and read the synopsis, I thought to myself, “Well that sounds interesting.” I thought it sounded like it had a lot of promise, but I don’t remember seeing it advertised in theaters. I think it had a very limited release.
That’s a shame, because this is a damn good little movie. I’ll never understand some of the crap that movie studios pick to produce or movies that are picked for awards. How some stuff gets the green light from a studio or is praised by critics and awards groups is beyond my comprehension, while stuff like this is largely ignored. This movie cost a little over $2 million to make and only made a little over $3 million in theaters. Meanwhile, I can guarantee you that the next Transformers movie is guaranteed to make at least $150 million whether it’s crap or not (and it is very likely to be).

This movie is funny, heartwarming, and even a little sad at times. It’s a great little comedy/drama with a different twist. This movie could have easily been about a human caretaker and an elderly man, but the route they chose really worked in its favor. Imagine The Odd Couple or Tuesdays with Morrie, excelpt one of the characters involved is a funny little robot.

All of the main cast members were great, but Frank Langella and Stellan Sarsgaard were fantastic. They had wonderful chemistry. I guess I should give Rachael Ma (who?) credit as well, because Sarsgaard only did the voice, she was inside the costume. The interactions between Frank and the robot were very entertaining to watch.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in watching a solid comedy/drama with a futuristic twist. You’ll find yourself wondering just how much the robot thinks and feels – if at all – and how much of it is just him following his programming.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on January 18, 2014.

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