Robot & Frank (2012)

Robot and Frank

Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy, Drama

Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler

Synopsis: An aging cat burglar suffering from dementia gets a house robot and starts using the robot in a plot to steal some douchebag’s wife’s jewels.

I like to think that there are two categories of film in the sci-fi genre. You get what I call “hard sci-fi,” which is a film in which the science aspects take front and centre but don’t really shape the plot or the themes in any meaningful way. An example of this would be the Star Wars movies. These kinds of sci-fi films are often action-packed and appeal to an audience’s desire to be entertained.

The second category is “soft sci-fi.” In this type of film, the scientific aspects introduce and shape the plot but it’s the human drama and the character’s interaction with the science which is key. These sorts of films engage an audience’s desire to think and to understand humanity in greater depth, usually by showing real life situations with a slight scientific twist. The sorts of films in this category include Her and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I enjoy both very much but, to be honest, I prefer the second category. Robot & Frank is a film I would class as “soft sci-fi”: although robots are a common feature in “hard sci-fi,” this film focuses on the relationship a mentally ill man develops with his robot in order to show the melancholy nature of growing old and losing the aspect of us which makes us who we are, namely our minds.

That sounds like quite a heavy theme and one which can depress even the most positive of people. True, it is quite upsetting to see what father time has in store for all of us but fortunately this movie deals with the theme of aging gracefully by injecting a comedic edge. Jokes about yuppies and robot conversations and a well-timed enema gag give the film a more playful feel. On top of that, the film’s two central characters (Robot and Frank) develop such an adorable relationship. It’s like watching an old married couple who bicker but love each other very much. It’s these parts which give the movie its human heart.

Speaking of humans, the film brings together an impressive cast. Nobody can deny that Langella and Sarandon are acting greats and Marsden also impresses in his “goofy-guy-next-door-who-I-want-to-plough” kind of way. The actors complement each other perfectly and no-one attempts to out-do the others. However, there is a weak link in the movie and it’s Liv Tyler. Her character is essentially the spoilt brat Earth-child daughter of Langella. She swans about talking of the evils of technology and wears some sort of pashmina over her head when she’s in Azerbaijan or some shit so she can connect to the locals. I hate white people sometimes. Fortunately, she’s not in the movie a lot so you can ignore her annoyingness fairly easily.

One thing I love about sci-fi movies like Robot & Frank is that they show us one possible direction the human race can develop as a species. I have to say, if this is the way we are going, I can’t wait to have an adorable robot butler when I’m older. I really hope I live to see the day my robot friend can cook me a healthy breakfast, help me with gardening, and help with my dementia (fingers crossed I never get it). As trite as it sounds, technology is a wonderful thing and one of the great things about Robot & Frank is that it shows us how technology can positively affect our lives. The film encourages aspiration by showing the faults and problems inherent in being human but also by showing a possible solution. Although this film has its moments of sadness, it leaves the audience with an optimism and a sense of hope.

High-lights:

  • “Thank you Frank. It’s time for your enema.”
  • “Some things take time Frank.” I fucking love that robot. I want one now.
  • Great message about technology while also conveying an environmental one too. I want a garden.
  • Characters you care about and actors who do them justice.

Downers:

  • Liv Tyler.
  • Dementia really is a horrible disease.

Summary:
Robot & Frank is an adorable little film that reminds us of our limits and encourages us to dream further. It’s also available on Netflix so if you’re bored one evening and need something to watch, this film is readily available. This film is not a visual spectacle in the way a lot of sci-fi films are but it doesn’t need to be. With a touching human core, Robot & Frank is a very good film for both sci-fi lovers and fans of character drama.

7.5/10

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8 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Drama, Good, Sci-Fi

8 responses to “Robot & Frank (2012)

  1. I really liked this movie, Frank Langella is outstanding in this one and Susan is great as usual but fuck yeah hated hated Liv Tyler.

  2. I’m in the minority of people who, for some reason, has not got Netflix. Robot & Frank is a film I’ve been wanting to watch for ages so it might just convince me to get it. Great review! I’m glad this film was not just an amazing concept that turned sour when it came to being realised.

  3. Good review, though not sure if I agree with your definitions of “hard” and “soft” sci-fi. Surely sci-fi exploring the big ideas and philosophies should be “hard” and big-budget entertaining extravaganzas should be “soft”?

    • Your definition probably makes more sense but I was thinking about something different. Allow me to explain through examples and nonsensical rambling. Take Star Trek: Into Darkness as an example. In that movie there are all kinds of technological and scientific wonders: teleportation, laser guns, traveling faster than the speed of light etc. None of these scientific marvels is really relevant to the plot of the film though. All they do is take the movie in the direction it needs to go. It’s like watching a river in a rain storm and all these scientific water droplets are hitting the water at top speed. It’s a bombardment of science but it doesn’t really matter: the river doesn’t change direction even though its being pelted with science fictiony things. In “soft sci fi,” it’s like looking at one drop of water hitting a still pond. One of those droplets hits the pond and what is analyzed is not the droplet itself but the effect it has on the pond, namely the ripples that droplet creates. The writer will have taken one idea and applied that idea to a real life situation. It’s softer in the sense that the audience is taken to a place where it is “life + 1 science-fiction thing.” Star Trek isn’t like that. Star Trek is “fiction + 1 gazillion science-fiction things.” Not to say that that is a bad thing (I really enjoyed Star Trek: Into Darkness.

      Does any of that make sense? Probably not…..I was high when I thought of it.

  4. Wouldn’t be too surprised if this is a future we soon start to see. Good review.

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