Jake Schreier’s 2012 Directorial debut, Robot & Frank, was earmarked for success after winning the Alfred P. Sloan prize for the best film that focuses on science or technology as a theme, or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character.
In this case it is Technology which the movie centres around, Frank (Frank Langella), is an aging retired cat burglar specialising in precious Jewels who battles with accepting the memory loss of his old age as well as the transition of the technology driven near future world he lives in. When his Son (James Marsden) buys him a Robot butler for assistance, Frank is immediately dismissive and angered somewhat by the Robot’s presence. But grows to love the electronic helper after the possibility to delve back into the world of thieving jewels with Robot’s help, brings them closer together.
Frank Langella gives an inspiring performance as he portrays the elderly Frank as a stern, and stubborn Father figure as only Langella can, although presents a vulnerability which makes the relationship with his Robot friend all the more delicately heart-warming. Never has an expressionless and monotone unit of artificial intelligence evoked such emotion and amusement from an audience, it is truly credit to the writers and performers. Susan Sarandon and James Marsden give solid performances in the supporting roles as the Love interest and concerned Son respectively.
This Film taps into the very heart of that Dichotomy…
We’ve all been there, attempting to explain the latest piece of gadgetry or technology to our parents or grandparents to the point where your Blood pressure is hitting harmful levels. Frustration at your elder’s disregard for modern day technologies can lead to an unpleasant atmosphere and arguments. This Film taps into the very heart of that Dichotomy.
Schreier himself states that he did not aim to label the film a single particular message and this is a clever choice. Since looking too far into a specific theme, message or tone in a movie can distract a viewer from the artistic merit, of which this film has plenty, or from narrative in general. That being said there is clearly many conflicting dichotomies present in Robot & Frank, which help to reinforce this cataclysmic rift between the traditional (Frank) and the modern (Robot). These polar opposites are straddled by Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) who works at the local Library Frank attends and as a character, values the merit of traditionalist life as well as the changing face of society and how technologies role has and continues to grow in influence. A further example is shown by the conflicting personalities of Frank’s children Hunter (Marsden) a Business executive type, who appears to embrace the modern age by buying the Robot helper and Madison (Liv Tyler), who works as a Humanitarian travelling the world for her work in more under developed, traditional countries.
The plotline is strong enough to keep the audience engaged…
The film is billed as a Drama/Comedy, however is does not totally rely on gaffs and jokes to entertain the audience, this film is naturally funny. Humour is cleverly deployed to a point where the audience finds themselves laughing at a slight movement of the Robot’s head or an exchange in dialogue between the two titular characters. The plotline is strong enough to keep the audience engaged and more importantly entertained, so that there doesn’t have to be a concentration on comedy elements which compliments the realistic style and look of the film. The Mise en Scene and cinematography with its soft focus shots make it a very aesthetically pleasing and beautiful looking film.
The portrayal of anti-Technology Humanitarian Daughter Madison by Liv Tyler can be seen as rather weak at times and almost insignificant in the plot, Tyler reprises a familiar, independent but blubbering and whiney role which she has become famous for. Further criticism could be that, although this film centres on the life of an elderly individual, it is unclear who would be the target audience to whom this piece would be aimed at. However, this could also be a positive thing as the production is also not limited to a specific fan base.
…heart-warming Drama and Comedy…
Apart from these very minor drawbacks, Robot & Frank uses a most realistic ‘near Future’ in which to set the Film, depicting a very interesting interpretation of what the Future may hold for us. One thing that is for certain is the release of Robot & Frank on March 8 2013. It is highly recommended by this reviewer as a great collaboration of heart-warming Drama and Comedy, surprisingly polished for a Directorial debut. Keep an eye out, there’s plenty more to come from Jake Schreier.