BFI London Film Festival 2012 – ‘Robot & Frank’
Robot & Frank
Directed by Jake Schreier
Written by Christopher D. Ford
Starring Frank Langella, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard
The near future, and aging grouch Frank (Frank Langella, superb) is slipping into the early stages of dementia. When his son Hunter (James Marsden) visits and finds his father living in a state of semi-squalor he gets Frank a robotic companion, voiced by the soothing tones of Peter Sarsgaard, initially suspicious of this metallic intruder into his private life Frank slowly begins to thaw to his new servant when he discovers that the automaton can assist him with some of his secret extra curricular activities. In an unusual stance for a film Frank is revealed as a retired con-artist and thief, an elderly antihero intent on stealing the valuables of his newly arrived yuppie neighbours, a haughty duo whom Frank meets at the library of his possible new girlfriend Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). When she announces that the library is being closed and its mouldy volumes digitised in the constant march of electronic progress Frank enlists the lock-picking skills of his new toy in order to steal a valuable first edition of Don Quixote in a romantic attempt to impress his new paramour….
This charming, amusing and got more laughs at the press screening than any of the other purported comedies screening at this years festival, and if they can win over a bunch of jaded old hacks like us then it seems certain to seduce audiences, if the odd combination of SF and frivolity can be overcome. Although criminal Langella wins you over with his cantankerous glint in his eye, as Sarsgaard gives the robot the necessary character and best lines for a metallic beast that is refreshingly shot in camera with no deployment of distracting CGI. The autumnal, futuristic world is skillfully rendered, there are no dazzling metropolis with swarms of hover cars careening by, it’s more hinted through the smaller details of technological advances ingrained into the fabric of the world, texture as personal communication devices and entertainment systems, rather than outlandish fashions or vehicles. But this is a film more about character than SF allegorising, there is a final ‘twist’ which makes sense of some of the odd relationships in the film, and like Frank’s deteriorating memory Robot & Frank won’t reside long in the memory banks, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion as a different take on a rarely successful genre – the SF / comedy hybrid.