Film review: Robot & Frank

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 5:45am

Starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler
Director: Jake Schreier
Category: IIA

Hollywood generally might be obsessed with teen audiences, but as the Baby Boomer generation ages, an increasing number of films are also made about golden ponds and bucket lists.

The latest attempt to explore a country for old men is the nominally sci-fi drama, Robot & Frank. Set in a future that could be Apple's next product launch, Frank Langella plays a retired cat burglar with a crabby demeanour and a diminishing memory. He lives alone in a big house eating cereal for dinner and leaving dirty clothes everywhere. To help clean the mess and make sure he stays on diet, his son (James Marsden) buys him a caretaker robot. It walks, talks and looks like one of those Japanese creations that dance.

Naturally, the old codger hates the thing as much as the steamed veggies it cooks. His only enjoyable routine seems to be heading to down to the local library where he makes cute with yummy granny Susan Sarandon. Frank might have a senior's aversion to technology but changes his mind when he discovers he can teach the robot to be an accomplice for one last job.

With a bigger showboating actor (ahem, Nicholson, Pacino) there might be more scenery chewing, but Langella opts for a quiet dignity to the role. His large frame and physical stature is ideally suited for such a lion in winter character, making Frank classier and more likeable without ever resorting to mugging for attention. When he says he ate lunch at a restaurant last week but then is told the place closed over three years ago, it's a moment of sympathy, not guffaw.

Meanwhile, he has too much pride to concede he can't be self-reliant. Frank's flaky daughter (Liv Tyler) wants to move in to take care of him but she is seriously cramping his style, not to mention his jewel robbery effort. His well-meaning but frustrated son begins to resent him for taking time away from his own young family.

Wisely, first time director Jake Schreier is neither caught up with the caper nor the talking robot. The story is about a man losing his life and learning to let his guard down. Frank could just as well be talking to a golden retriever and trying to balloon float his house down to South America. I'm sure Langella would do justice to that too.

In a way, Robot & Frank is as drama free as Langella's restrained performance. Presumably, Michael Haneke's Oscar-nominated Amour, with a similar theme of dementia and ageing, deals with the issue much more powerfully.

Robot & Frank doesn't rip your heart out but it makes you mourn for memories wiped out as easily as those on a hard drive.

Robot & Frank opens today