Belated Movie Review: Robot & Frank

I will have a writing related post soon, but since I watch a lot of movies and like to muse on them, I thought I might start with “Belated Movie Reviews.” I rarely see movies when they open in theaters, so I hope that by reviewing older movies, I might turn you on to something you missed.

Last night I saw Robot & Frank, a sort of sweet little movie (85 mins) starring Frank Langella, James Marsden (aka Cyclops or Corny Collins), Liv Tyler (she still acts, it seems) and Susan Sarandon (yay!).

Langella’s Frank Weld is an older man, living alone, whose memory is starting to fade, or fragment. Not entirely, and not necessarily on important issues, but he’s obviously declining. At first, the viewer doesn’t realize how much, as what he forgets seems relatively harmless, such as that his favorite diner in town has gone out of business.  Frank also used to be a thief, a “cat burglar” as he himself puts it.

Frank fills his time by walking into town, visiting the library and flirting a bit with the librarian (Susan Sarandon). He is disappointed to learn that the library will essentially be going all-digital, a project funded by a neighbor, a young millionaire named Jake.

Frank has two children, Hunter (Marsden) and Madison (Tyler), and I have a feeling people will recognize these different relationships. Hunter drives five hours each way every weekend to check on Frank, who lives alone in a rural area. He sacrifices time with his family because he feels his dad needs him. Madison is off in Turkmenistan, communicating via erratic Skype calls, and not as familiar with Frank’s condition, but only because she is far away, not because she doesn’t care.

Hunter shows up one weekend with the Robot, because he is reaching the end of his rope in dealing with Frank — answering the same questions, having the same arguments, going over the same things. Hunter need something to change, both for himself and for Frank, and so brings in the Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). The Robot will care for Frank, cooking meals, cleaning the house, and perhaps most importantly, putting him on a routine in order to help his cognitive functioning.

This is something Frank obviously needs, but Hunter cannot provide (he has his own family) and Frank will not accept from another person, nor will go to the “brain center,” he informs Hunter.

Frank naturally resists at first, telling both Hunter and Madison he does not want the Robot. However, Frank discovers some perks about the Robot, not the least of which is that he can teach the Robot to pick locks. This gives Frank an idea, which benefits him mentally because now he has a goal — something the Robot has said is important for Frank. (There’s a wonderful moment towards the end, when the Robot follows a previous order from Frank but in a different situation than it was issued. Who says Robots can’t have senses of humor?)

Madison suddenly shows up on Frank’s doorstep to save him from the Robot. By now Frank is not just accustomed to his companion, but needs him for a plan. However, Madison is a force to be reckoned with and shuts the Robot down, much to Frank’s dismay.

There are various relationships going around here, and it’s hard to say which one takes precedence, and perhaps no single one does. Frank and the Robot are at the center of it, but Frank’s relationships with Hunter and Madison and how they handle his mental decline are important as well. Madison is not ignoring it, but does not seem to see the entirety of it. Hunter is doing the best he can, but has other obligations. In a moment with the Robot, Frank has to confront the kind of legacy he has left to his children, and it’s a watershed moment for him, played well by Langella.

I liked the movie over all, but it felt lacking in places, mostly with Madison. It’s not clear why she is so upset about the Robot. It’s at least implied that she feels it is cold for a Robot to be caring for her father, and she comes dashing home from Turkmenistan to work on a grant application and care for him, but it’s a bigger job than she realized. But why is it so awful for the Robot to do this, especially if Frank will not accept live-in care, but needs it? Is she coming home because she really wants to, or because she feels guilty? Does she think the Robot is usurping a person’s job? Why didn’t she come before — it’s clear that she and Hunter have discussed their father’s condition, so she doesn’t seem in denial.

Frank’s relationships with both children are also a bit thin. We find out that he’s divorced, and that he’s spent time in jail, but nothing of the impact of that is discussed aside from one line from Hunter. Yet somehow Hunter feels compelled to care for him. Did Frank make up for his mistakes?

The ending is satisfying, I think, or at least pleasing, and it doesn’t feel out of place or forced.

I’d recommend the movie with the reservation that one might feel it is incomplete. But it’s worth a viewing.

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by MS on May 12, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    I will have to put this movie on my list of movies to see. My sister passed away from a brain tumor which left her with lots of cognitive deficits.

    Reply

    • My condolences on the loss of your sister. I have a feeling this movie will really hit home in many ways for those dealing with a relative that has Alzheimer’s, dementia, or similar conditions.

      Reply

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