MOVIE REVIEW: Robot and Frank

If you plan to see the film Robot and Frank, try to avoid the trailer, which I think gives away far too much.

The Wife and I had a Sunday afternoon date at the Spectrum Theatre to see Robot and Frank, as described in Rotten Tomatoes:
“Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health.”

Frank (the marvelous Frank Langella) is initially displeased with this turn of events. He’s also unhappy the way that the library is being automated into an “experience,” with the paper products virtually being eliminated, in an effort led by some well-to-do, condescending yuppie twit Jake (Jeremy Strong) to make the library an “experience.” At least Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), the librarian with whom he is smitten, still has a job.

Is Frank really losing it? The program of the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, based on the motions of dancer Rachael Ma) is to keep Frank’s mind occupied, with gardening and the like. Frank eventually has other ideas, though, involving his previous line of work, as a cat burglar.

Conflicted but loyal son Hunter (James Marsden) and world traveler daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) seem slight against Frank, but that could be in the writing. The robot, though, is quite engaging, in his/its own way, and becomes a worthy companion for Frank. (The machine’s HAL-like voice bothered Roger Ebert far more than it did me.)

I shan’t say more, except that if you plan to see the film, try to avoid the trailer, which I think gives away far too much, although there is one big reveal I did not see coming. It was an interesting treatise on aging and memory, family relationships, technology, and what makes a person a person. Oh, and, a few times it’s LOL funny. (And yes, when I write LOL, I MEAN LOL.)

There were things that bugged me, though. How the apparently aggrieved Jake essentially orders around the sheriff (Jeremy Sisto) is one example. The selection of Mozart’s Requiem, overused in film generally, was not particularly necessary here; yet the Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart was quite movingly applied. Obviously not the film’s fault, but at the end of the feature, in the beginning of the credits, they had real examples of robots working to care for people, yet about a third of the audience is walking out, which I just did not understand.

This is a good movie that might have been great. Still worth seeing, if not in the theater, then on video (or whatever they’re using these days).
My wife saw Frank Langella on Broadway in Dracula c. 1977. She loved the show, and was especially fond of the actor, it seems…

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