Frank Langella’s presence would be enough to pique my interest in any film. Robot & Frank offers him a modest starring vehicle with a science-fiction spin, and the result is one of the most enjoyable indie films of the year. A bigger budget might have allowed fledgling director Jake Schreier to depict the future setting in greater detail, but given a choice between this inventive feature and, say, Total Recall, I’ll take Robot & Frank just as it is.
It would be best not to reveal too much of the story, but here’s the essence: Langella stubbornly lives alone in upstate New York, despite his recurring memory lapses. This concerns his son (James Marsden), who delivers a diminutive robot which will function as cook, servant, and caretaker. The older man takes an instant dislike to the superficially friendly automaton, but gradually begins to rely on him in ways he never imagined.
A first-rate supporting cast includes Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Strong, and Jeremy Sisto, who make the most of screenwriter Christopher D. Ford’s clever material. It’s no shock that Langella’s character turns out to be cannier than anyone anticipates…or that the actor seems to be having a good time playing him.
While the film is mostly lighthearted, it also deals with some of the less appealing aspects of future life, as well as the responsibility of caring for an aging parent. Those qualities make Robot & Frank more than just a clever riff about a grumpy old man.
As summer winds down, it’s a pleasure to encounter not one but three new films (this, along with Premium Rush and Hit & Run) that offer fresh ideas and satisfying entertainment. I wish I could say the same every weekend of the year.