Review: Robot & Frank (Sundance 2012)
PLOT: Frank (Frank Langella) is a retired cat burglar, who lives alone and is semi-estranged from his children. When he starts to show the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s, his son buys him a robot companion (voiced by Peter Saarsgard). Initially resistant, Frank eventually comes around, and starts to bond with his new robot, especially when the robot, wanting to stimulate him, begins helping him plan a new, multi-million dollar heist.
REVIEW: It's no wonder that ROBOT AND FRANK was one of the first big deals announced at the Sundance Film Festival, with Sony Pictures Classics having acquired it shortly after it's first public screening. The buzz around town was that ROBOT AND FRANK was a charming comedy-drama, with light tinges of sci-fi- that left smiles on the faces of many an audience member, and cynical critic.
I caught ROBOT & FRANK late in the festival, and truth be told, I almost blew it off in favor of sleep. I'm really glad I sucked it up, as ROBOT AND FRANK ended up being one of my favorite films of the festival. Many have been comparing it to MOON, as it's another story that focuses on the relationship between man and machine, that, rather than present the machine half of the equation as cold and sinister, presents it as kindly and helpful.
Peter Saarsgard's 'Robot' is just as memorable as Kevin Spacey's GERTY in MOON, although rather than be a disembodied Hal-like figure, this robot is more of the WALL-E, “cute” type- by way of Apple. The chemistry between the titular characters is pitch-perfect, with this being Frank Langella's best role in years- better even than his Oscar-nominated turn in FROST/NIXON. It's not a stretch to think that, if ROBOT AND FRANK resonates with audiences, this could be the type of role that could be a major player come next-year's award-season.
It's a fun part for Langella, who typically plays heavy, somewhat dour roles. Here, he shows a real flair for light comedy, with his tough-guy ex-con, meshing perfectly with the sweet-natured robot that becomes his care-taker. Langella makes you laugh, and even a little misty-eyed later in the film, and it's probably my favorite performance of the festival.
Playing his estranged kids, James Marsden and Liv Tyler are excellent. Tyler plays his hippie daughter, who moves in with Frank for a spell in order to wean him of his robot, the use of which she thinks is immoral. Marsden plays his more pragmatic son, who resents his father for having spent most of his formative years in prison, and is more than happy to leave him with a caretaker android- so that he can be someone else's problem.
Susan Sarandon, also has a gem of a role as the local librarian/ love-interest for Frank. At first, the role seemed a bit tacked on, although Sarandon was excellent, but towards the end there's a twist that made the part extremely affecting.
ROBOT AND FRANK really was one of the highlights of a rather superb edition of Sundance, and I'm thrilled that I got the opportunity to check it out. It's a sweet little sci-fi comedy, and the type of film that should find an appreciative audience once it comes out.