90 min., dir. by Jake Schreier, with Frank Langella, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, and Peter Sarsgaard (voice)
It’s official: the film of 2012 that utterly floored me goes to Robot & Frank. A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Robot & Frank avoids the normal trappings of a human vs. artificial intelligence mortality play. Combined with clever humor and a fantastic lead performance, Robot & Frank is a pleasure not to be missed.
In the near future, an aged cat burglar with onsets of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Frank (Frank Langella), lives alone in upstate New York. As Frank’s mind slowly deteriorates, his son comes closer to placing Frank in a home. Under the impression he’s perfectly fine in both body and mind, and rabidly refusing to succumb to the idea, Frank is given another option. Having a robot helper (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) is another thing Frank doesn’t want, but he’s given no choice.
Despite a rocky start, the robot concocts ways to make Frank agree to try doing some things differently. On their way back from town one day, Frank realizes that his new helper is not as bad as he first believed, and an odd partnership begins to form.
Oh, the old tense relationship turned buddy-buddy story, it’s what you’re thinking, I know it. Robot & Frank takes the premise down a new road, and finds ways to create a charming comedy around a heartfelt exploration of the mind. Where most films containing a robot as a main character would focus purely on the idea of whether the robot is a person or not, Robot & Frank doesn’t. Yes, the issues are raised, but it’s much more about ourselves and how we treat our own bodies more than anything else.
Frank Langella is an acting legend on both stage and screen. He’s done some amazing work, and he’s done a few cash grabs. Robot & Frank houses his greatest performance on film, to date. Frank (the character) is one stubborn man, and it’s tough to believe anything he says is true. Whether it’s a blatant lie, or believing that maybe even his memory loss is s clever ruse, he never lets down his guard. Langella is able to emit the sadness of this broken man behind the tough exterior without missing a beat.
Not since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has a film so brilliantly illustrated the complex nature of the human mind with such grace, laughter, and tenderness. Robot & Frank is a treasure of both smart film making and sophisticated storytelling. Simply put, do not miss it.