Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Robot and Frank (Wanous)

Charming film a winner from first-time director

Charming film a winner from first-time director

Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella in a scene from 'Robot & Frank,' which opens at The Tropic Cinema.

"Robot & Frank," Rated PG-13, 89 min. Now playing at The Tropic Cinema.

Set 'in the near future,' "Robot & Frank" is a charming film that is part caper, part romance, part comedy and a look at the problems of aging that everyone eventually faces.

Frank, portrayed by the gifted Frank Langella, is a retired senior who is showing the deteriorating signs of aging that lead his two adult children, played by Liv Tyler and James Marsden, to consider placing him in a nursing home.

Knowing that Frank will want no part of that, his son instead buys him a humanoid robotic companion, who is programmed to improve Frank's physical and mental health. At first reluctant, Frank soon comes to appreciate the robot as a cook, housekeeper, friend and, ultimately, accomplice. Turns out, Frank is a retired cat burglar, 'a second story man,' and his new robot is the perfect partner-in-crime.

Langella ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," "Frost/Nixon"), who has been acting since the mid-60's, is perfect as Frank, giving the character just the right mix of charm, cunning and confusion. It's fun to watch Langella as he takes Frank from a bewildered and befuddled old man in the beginning, to an energized and focused schemer planning new heists with his new mechanical confederate and, finally, back to reality when his plans don't quite work out as planned.

Marsden ("Enchanted," "27 Dresses") is excellent as Hunter, the frustrated son and brother who is just trying to do the right thing. Liv Tyler ("The Incredible Hulk," "The Lord of the Rings") is Madison, Frank's altruistic daughter, who doesn't agree with Hunter's purchase of the robot. She thinks she can do a better job of taking care of their father and temporarily moves in with him.
Peter Sarsgaard ("Green Lantern," "Knight and Day") voices the robot, sounding like a much friendlier version of HAL, the malevolent computer from "2001."

Jeremy Strong plays the smug financier of the new library with such creepy flair that the viewer is glad when things go against him. The cast also includes the talented Susan Sarandon as Frank's friend and town librarian, who is coping with the not-so-comforting transition of her library of printed media to a library of the 'near future.' She also has a surprising past that will slowly be revealed.

In his first full-length feature, Jake Schreier makes the jump from his previous career as rock band keyboardist to movie director seem almost effortless. His film perfectly captures the tone of a light-hearted plot with serious undertones and does one of the most wonderful things a movie can do: send the viewer out of the theater with a smile. Scripted by Christopher D. Ford, also in his first full-length film, "Robot & Frank" scored well on Rotten Tomatoes, with both critics and audience giving it well-deserved high marks.

There are only a couple of flaws in this otherwise wonderful film. Even in the near future, one cannot imagine the crime victim being allowed to ride along and practically direct the police investigation.

And the viewer may be a little puzzled by an ambiguous ending that could be taken several ways. But these are just minor imperfections in a small gem of a movie. Only in limited release, it's too bad that "Robot & Frank" didn't get a wide distribution, as its message should resonate with all ages. The 30- & 40-somethings of today could well be the Franks of tomorrow.

And, considering that I need a watch that gives me both date AND day, well.... some of us are already there. So before you forget, write yourself a Post-It note and stick it on the 'fridge: 'Go see "Robot & Frank.' (Be sure to stay for the credits at the end - there are some film clips showing real present-day robots doing amazing things.)  

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