“ROBOT AND FRANK” has all the ingredients to add up to a good film. The story has great comic potential: it’s set in the near future when an ageing, forgetful Frank (Frank Langella as an old curmudgeonly loner) is forced by his son (James Marsden) to accept the 24 hour care of a robot. The robot can do pretty much everything: cook, clean and chat. Frank slowly accepts the companionship of this robot as his past life as a cat burglar begins to emerge and as he trains the robot to help him steal.
Peter Sarsgaard voices the robot; and along for the ride are Susan Sarandon as a friendly librarian, Live Tyler as Frank’s peripatetic daughter and Jeremy Strong as scumbag Jake.
Good actors all.
The movie bristles with ideas – of ageing, memory, the demise of the library and paper books, the role and responsibility of children to their parents etc.
Put them all together and all these fine ingredients leave you with a bland, tasteless dish. This is a drama that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be: a meditation on dementia, a caper movie, a comedy, a heart-jerker. It’s as though either Christopher Ford, the writer, had a few movies in mind and decided to combine them all into a one-size fits all bundle; or Jack Schreier, the director gave everyone an equal say as to what type of movie he should be directing.
There’s a whole new genre of movies out there these days catering to the grey market. From “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” to Dustin Hoffman’s latest, “Quartet” to, of course, the award winning “Amour”. Some of them work brilliantly – those that do manage to address serious themes and tackle the problems of ageing with finesse and – often – charm.
“Robot and Frank” fails on all areas – it serves up the reality of dementia in such a way that you feel Frank just has a summer cold that’ll go away soon enough; and it presents us with a family relationship that’s as trite and superficial as you usually find only in romcoms.
For a film about fading memory, this one is best forgotten