Monday, September 3, 2012

Robot & Frank

Frank (Frank Langella) is a quiet senior man, a former cat burglar, whose sometimes forgetful memory nevertheless doesn't prevents him from his daily routines.  A walk into town, to the library for a book he's read several times before and platonic flirting with a friendly librarian, played by Susan Sarandon, followed by casual shoplifting at a local beauty store where his favorite restaurant resided many moons ago.  Living in partial squalor in a big house in a time set in the near future, Frank's son, Hunter (James Marsden) is worried, yet also uninterested in the treking several hours to watch the old man, who still believes him to be in college.  His solution-- a helper robot to look after his old man, specifically programmed to ensure that Frank stays healthy and in control of his senior moments.  Seen as a humorously benign new-age Hal from 2001, Frank's robot, voiced dryly by Peter Sarsgaard with a winking human undertone, a friendship between man and machine starts to develop, as the robot (never given a proper name) re-triggers an old-time sense of fun and danger for the ex-con man.  Essentially, Robot & Frank is the ultimate new age indie comedy centering around one final job.

The best parts of Robot & Frank are Langella as grand curmudgeon; a hilarious reaction shot, followed by a profanity-infused line reading are genius when the robot suggests that Frank take up gardening.  And the film, directed by Jake Schreier and written by Christopher D. Ford, is sharpest and at it's most clever in the rapport between Frank and the robot; the con jobs are besides the point, leaving little in the way of mystery and suspense, while his human compatriots are relationships better served for movies of the week.  The film premiered at this years Sundance Film Festival, and earned many plaudits mainly because Langella is too strong and sturdy an actor to undercut a scene or throw away a flimsy piece of writing or narrative indiscretion, and while his performance works both as comedic and poignant, there's a strange topsy-turvy, seemingly lack of narrative structure to the film.  Farcical one moment, serious the next, with a strange save the books sermon thrown in for some reason.  The problem with this silly movie is that it takes itself way too seriously to be seen as novelty indie fun, or a nifty high concept conceit.  C+

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