Hunter (James Marsden) is fed up with dealing with his aging father, Frank (Frank Langella), and so rather than having to constantly drives miles to sort him out, he buys him a robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), who’ll serve as a carer and butler. Frank doesn’t want this contraption, but eventually agrees to keep it while simultaneously plotting ways to get rid of it.
However Frank slowly realises the bot may have a use. Frank is a former jewel thief, and he recognises that the robot can be taught skills such as lock picking, which Frank can use in a scheme he cooks up to rejoin his former criminal profession.
Robot & Frank is a sweet, funny and often quite clever sci-fi, set in a near future that’s close enough to us to be familiar, but which still feels like a fully formed vision of life in a few years’ time. Langella does a great job in a role that’s tougher than it looks, as he’s the one who’s got to bring humanity to a robot that keeps insisting it’s just a bag of useful circuits.
As well as being entertaining, there’s also plenty of thematic interest, with the film looking at the problems of aging, from loneliness and illness to the gradual loss of independence. It also focuses on the power of memory – contrasting Frank’s humanity to the robot’s computer brains, yet realising that the memories both contain is most of what they are.
It also looks really good on Blu-ray, highlighting the film’s clean and sharp aesthetic, as well as the extremely well done robot effects – which are particularly impressive considering it only cost $2.5 million to make.
It’s a shame there aren’t more films about older people like this. While people praise the likes of Marigold Hotel and Quartet, they’re all essentially in the same genre, telling the same sort of story. As Robot & Frank (and Cocoon and Batteries Not Included before it) proves, there’s no reason older characters can’t be at the heart of sci-fi or indeed any other genre.
It feels fresh and slightly different, managing to be entertaining to most age groups even if it is largely about an old man coming to terms with his age, and what he does and doesn’t have to give up – especially if you have a robot.
Overall Verdict: A soft sci-fi with something slightly different to offer, which manages to make you both laugh and think.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac