Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Robot & Frank

Directed by Jake Schreier.
2012. Rated PG-13, 85 minutes.
Jeremy Strong
Jeremy Sisto

Once a globetrotting cat burglar, Frank (Langella) is retired and lives alone. These days, he gets all of his excitement flirting with Jennifer (Sarandon), the local librarian, while checking out books. The problem is he’s suffering from what appears to be the early stages of Alzheimer’s. That word is never used in the movie to my recollection, just my amateur diagnosis. His adult son Hunter (Marsden) is worried about him and has entertained the idea of putting the old man in a nursing home. Thinking better of it, Hunter buys Frank a robot that functions as an automated in-home healthcare attendant. Though reluctant at first, Frank and machine develop a fascinating relationship.

This movie raises many of the same questions we've been asking for years about the potential good or harm that may come from our ever-increasing dependency on technology. However, it does it in a way that’s refreshing. It’s refreshing because no matter how plainly we can see that their friendship is artificial, it feels as authentic as any other. Clearly, we’re viewing the world through Frank’s cloudy perception. The idea of a mutual bond between he and the robot is as much a figment of his imagination as it is reality. The line between the two blurred by the robot often responding as a friend might. As a result, we’re caught in that abyss between the heart and the mind. We know one thing to be true and hope that the other thing is also, though we know it to be impossible.

Frank Langella gives us a great portal for such feelings. He plays his part perfectly. We see Frank as a stubborn man, aware he’s not as sharp as he once was, but thinking he can handle it. The robot reinvigorates him, helps him reclaim his zest for life. This is not always good thing, necessarily, as Frank entertains the idea of returning to his old tricks. On the other hand, his synapses are firing once more.

There are a couple of narrative issues. Namely, the way Susan Sarandon’s character is handled feels like a bit of a cheat, to me. I see what the filmmakers are trying to do, but it renders Frank much further gone than has been let on to that point. In fact, it makes it seem as if there should never have been a purchase of the robot in the first place. His son should have went with his first instinct. For fear I've already said too much, I’ll leave it at that. I will say that Sarandon herself is great in the role. Other supporting players are just as good. The whirlwind turn by Liv Tyler as Frank’s daughter especially impresses.

While superheroes and dystopian futures dominate the box office, the truth is that most of the best science fiction of recent vintage shies away from explosions and invasions. Instead, they use futuristic premises to examine our present circumstances. In lieu of eye-popping visuals, they engage our minds. Ultimately, they are films about us human beings. Movies like Another Earth and Safety Not Guaranteed understand this and weave wonderfully relatable tales out of their sci-fi frames. They’re barely even recognizable as members of the genre, at all. Robot & Frank strikes a similar chord, though the presence of the machine renders it more obvious. Sure, it presents us with a society where it is becoming increasingly normal to have a robot around to do chores for you, but this isn't the hyper-paranoid universe of I, Robot. This is one man trying to come to grips with his own very personal situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment