Set in what is shrewdly captioned “the near future”, Robot & Frank is the tale of an elderly man and his relationship with a state of the art robotic health worker, annoyingly (and perhaps poignantly) never named. We learn that Frank, played by his namesake Frank Langella, used to be a jewellery thief, and whilst he is initially outraged and disinterested at the thought of living with a robot, a fate forced upon him by an overbearing and distant son, he soon begins to see the possibilities of the partnership and enlists his shiny new friend in reigniting his passion for a five fingered discount. This element of the plot provides plenty of pleasant set pieces that bring humour and dry wit to the picture, but the real strength and surprise of the film is its melancholy and at times heart breaking examination of dementia. Frank is shown to struggle with his own memory throughout the film, which leads to an incredibly poignant set piece in which he does not want to erase the memory of his robotic companion, who in a way has become a part of his own functioning memory and life. Whilst some elements of the treatment of mental degeneration could be seen to be glossed over in the script, namely Frank forgetting some characters yet conveniently remembering others, I didn’t find myself too agitated by this and understand that a script writer has to make certain allowances for the progression of the plot.
The satisfying chemistry between the lead and his electronic friend is really what holds the film together, a testament to the solo acting of Langella and the computerised yet innately human voice work of Peter Sarsgaard. I had no trouble becoming emotionally invested in the characters and felt genuine happiness and remorse at all the sentimentally charged moments of the picture. Supporting roles from Susan Sarandon, James Marsden and Liv Tyler all play their part in rounding the film out, even if Tyler’s character of the stereotypical eco-warrior, anti technology daughter was probably the most annoying screen presence of the year so far.
So overall Robot & Frank gets a 3.5 out of 5 from me. A sentimental, melancholy and surprisingly witty take on human frailty and the technology of the future. If nothing else, you will certainly come out of the film wanting to put a deposit down on acquiring a robot of your own. I’ve already made a list of high jinks that me and Sparky will get up to. Yes, I will call him Sparky.