This review was originally published on January 22, 2012…
Frank (Frank Langella) has deteriorated into that terrifying stage of old age where your kids feel they can make life-altering decisions for you and you can’t do anything about it. Luckily, Frank lives in the “near future” and that means that instead of getting a grouchy home health nurse when his memory starts to fail, Frank gets an adorable robot. Frank isn’t too happy about this new development, but as Robot and Frank progresses, the two become friends – what film reviewers would call an “unlikely friendship” – and we come to see both Frank and the Robot as capable, but extremely flawed individuals.
Despite his memory problems, Frank appears to be quite well adjusted to this technology driven life. As an ex-high-class-burglar, Frank educates himself on new security systems and safes. So when he discovers his robot harbors a talent for lock picking, he is ready to undergo a dangerous heist in order to keep his mind from slipping into boredom-induced confusion.
I go back and forth on whether or not I want to live in this near future. On the one hand, future robots with your best interests at heart cook, clean, crack good jokes, and help you plan robberies. On the other hand, libraries are digitized, phone calls are all visual, and douche bag young people call you “old timer.” Also, why haven’t they found a cure for memory loss, yet? Is there a string of Republican presidents who will prevent stem cell research in our future? God help us.
Robot and Frank is cute. Frank is cute, the robot is cute, and everything they do together is cute. There are moments of absurdity, which people with any knowledge of conventional memory loss might object to, and big logical gaps, but the film remains consistently enjoyable by focusing on both its human and non-human character development. By setting the film in the near future, director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford avoid the science-fiction trap of creating an entirely new world. Watching this film, I was never distracted by the details of whether or not such technology would be possible and what the implications of the technology are. Instead, I was always interested in how the characters interacted in their environment. Characters make for a much more interesting story than appliances. And even the robot, here, is a character, not a piece of technology.
The film is cute, but there are also very genuine explorations of aging and loneliness that I loved. As a concept, Robot and Frank deserves its talented cast, wonderful costuming, and catchy soundtrack. And by combining these elements, the film moves beyond a mere concept and delivers an emotionally significant final product.