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kilowog [Film Festival 01.26.12] scifi comedy drama

Year: 2012
Directors: Jake Schreier
Writers: Christopher D. Ford
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: kilowog
Rating: 8 out of 10

When you hear Frank Langella's name a number of things come to mind, robots may or may not be one of them. Sundance 2012 unspooled Jake Schreier's ROBOT AND FRANK this week; moving forward with the hope that the two words shall become synonymous. Played for laughs, sentiment, and even small thrills this sci-fi adventure proved to be a crowd favorite even as the festival made certain that first time feature filmmaker Schreier will have many more opportunities to showcase his talents in the years to come.

Set in the near future, Frank (Langella) is everything that you'd expect him to be. Crotchety, grizzled, rude -- a stereotypical old man fit to a T. Living alone in his large rural home, he is visited by his frustrated son Hunter (James Marsden) on a weekly basis, but the five hour trips out to see his father are becoming more of a chore with each subsequent visit. Frank's equally unappreciative of his son's henpecking, so what if he wants to eat Captain Crunch cereal and have his home externally exhibit his sense of malaise? However, it's Hunter's growing concern for his father's mental well-being that is the source of the intense level of scrutiny. Things are getting so bad that Frank can't rightly remember what year his son graduated from Princeton, and yet his higher level of functionality still demands that he often be given the benefit of the doubt.

As Hunter's concern for his father grows, a solution is obtained and he delivers a caretaker who can be with Frank 24/7 -- a Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). Never given a name and initially far from welcome in the house, Frank begins to rely on the Robot not so much for friendship, but for entertainment and menial chores. It's only when Frank realizes that the Robot can be an asset more than a hindrance that the two begin to bond.

Joining Frank in his small town living is Jennifer (rightly played by Susan Sarandon) who serves as the local librarian at the town's library, a location that serves as one of Frank's few sources of joy both because of the literature and the woman who provides it to him. Unfortunately, we are in the future, and times are changing and that means the library is switching over to digital thanks to a smarmy businessman named Jake (Jeremy Strong), who can't help but needle Frank about the days of yore when the Dewey Demical System existed.

Possessing a checkered past as a thief, Frank teaches the Robot to pick locks and other such tools of the trade. Then, they pull their first heist.

Though the film features a robot, this remains a truly low budget sci-fi feature, taking the time to concentrate more on story and character than on dazzling effects and it proves to be worth the effort even if the "robot" in question looks like a guy in a poorly inspired Radio Shack robot suit. Skillfully scripted by Christopher Ford, the laughs come fast and often and there's even room for an air of sentimentality as you're feeling that soft tug at your heart strings as the film reaches it's mostly satisfying conclusion. The faults are few and far between for this upgraded SHORT CIRCUIT, but still include a far too abbreviated appearance by the always welcome, Liv Tyler who plays Frank's estranged daughter, as well as a slight groan inducing coda. Langella, who never rarely gets his due credit as a screen talent, brings all that he can to the curmudgeonly Frank role and we're all the better for it. Meanwhile, Marsden can't help but bring an tastefully added level of slapstick that he's brought to the table many times before in supporting roles in such films as SEX DRIVE and ENCHANTED. ROBOT AND FRANK won't win any major awards for its micro-budget looks, but it undoubtedly will continue to win fans and well it should.

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