‘Robot & Frank’ (2013); I’m certain ‘Frank & Robot’ sounds better.

11 Feb

Robot & FrankA quirky, semi-serious indie drama about ageing and the role of modern technology, Robot & Frank is an enjoyable though strangely forgettable film about the indignities of old age and dementia, while simultaneously a philosophical examination of the concept of artificial intelligence, and robotics as a whole.

Set in a not-too-distant future New York, Robot & Frank tells the tale of Frank (Frank Langella, of Frost/Nixon fame), whose struggle with severely regressive memory loss, as well as his rather dubious living habits, forces his son, Hunter (James Marsden, who fans of 30 Rock might recognise as Liz Lemon’s most stable boyfriend), to get him a VGC-60L robot to help out around the house. In doing so, the newly-christened Robot suggests that the old man should find a hobby. Frank decides to re-live some rather illegal memories of his glory days, with the help of his new humanoid buddy, and drama ensues.

Langella’s lead role is wonderfully realised and instantly believable; the veteran actor plays the part of the grumpy old man perfectly and really steals the show. He is like a mixture of Grandpa Simpson and Jay from Modern Family; rude, passive-aggressive, unfriendly but funny curmudgeon. Though acted well, Marsden’s Hunter lacks any relatable depth, and Frank’s hippy daughter Madison is a cardboard cutout of a character with Liv Tyler’s pretty though misused face strewn across it. She truly is wasted here, which is a shame, because she’s usually such a good actress. There is a twist near the end which I genuinely did not see coming, and manages to concurrently be both bittersweet and heartwarming, yet underwhelming.

On the continuum of robot-human buddies, the VGC-60L lacks the charisma of C-3PO, the hilarity of Marvin the Paranoid Android and the sheer awesomeness of Tom Servo. Robot fills the bizarre and hitherto undiscovered gap between HAL 9000 and The Jetsons’ Rosie; he fulfils the domestic tasks of the latter, while echoing the former in terms of both language, diction and indistinguishable intelligence. He is less interesting than any of the above names, and the film suffers as a result. His calmly obedient nature (programming?) is anathema to the villains of the film; hipsters. Robot & Frank offers a rather sharp criticism of hipster “culture”, as the ridiculous new café-electronic library concept presented in the movie is both laughable and horrifyingly imaginable.

However, aside from the strangely archaic, fascinatingly retro design of the robots (and Langella’s flawless delivery) there is nothing overly special to warrant a second viewing of this movie. That said, it lacks any real problems worthy of actual condemnation. Robot & Frank is an interesting, mildly entertaining anti-rom-com/science fiction indie flick hybrid that is worth a look, though hardly deserving of any Oscars.

[Written for The Student Standard]

Simon says: do the Roboto! Or just watch this film.

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