Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Robot & Frank: Aging in the Age of AI
anthropomorphize. It is a very human
thing to do, especially for objects that move on their own accord. One retired burglar will find himself doing
just that with his assisted living droid in Jake Schreier’s very near future Robot & Frank (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Weld did not exactly get away scot free, but he is still living out his golden
years in complete liberty.
Unfortunately, his memory lapses are getting progressively worse. His establishment son Hunter is worried,
because concern is what he does best. In
contrast, New Age daughter Madison sees no evil when she calls in from exotic
backwaters like Turkmenistan. Hoping to
reverse his father’s slide, Hunter brings him a robot to help with the
household chores and keep the difficult senior on a regular schedule.
course, Old Man Weld initially thinks little of his robot helper, nor does his
kneejerk Luddite daughter. However, when
the former burglar realizes the robot has a knack for things like lock-picking,
he has a dramatic change of heart. He
also has a perfect target: the oily hipster overseeing the conversion of his
beloved library into some sort holographic monstrosity. Having a purpose seems to do wonders for his
mental state. He even starts seriously
putting the moves on Jennifer, the librarian he always tentatively flirted
with. Needless to say though, the caper
turns out to be a bit more complicated than expected.
R&F is an intimate character
study with some decidedly gentle SF elements (despite winning the Alfred P. Sloan Award for addressing themes of science and technology in indie film at
this year’s Sundance). Neither Frank the
character (who is quite well read) nor Schreier is interested in exploring the
implications of the singularity, at least not in this film. Though Schreier’s style is never all that
showy, his restraint serves the material rather well. In fact, a late revelation packs considerable
punch precisely because of its understated treatment.
Frank Langella never overplays his hand, conveying his namesake’s vulnerabilities
and self-doubt in quiet but effective moments.
James Marsden does his best work perhaps ever (which is not saying much
with Lurie's Straw Dogs remake relatively fresh in
mind) as the understandably exasperated son.
As Jennifer the librarian, Susan Sarandon makes the most of what
initially appears to be little more than an extended cameo, but unfolds into
something much more significant. Even
Liv Tyler is not totally awful as daughter Madison (though “good” would still
be pushing it).
written by Christopher D. Ford, R&F leaves
viewers without complete closure, in a way that will ring true for families
that have gone through similar experiences as the Welds. A sensitive, only slightly speculative film, Robot & Frank is easily recommended
for general audiences (particularly librarians, robotics engineers, and
thieves) when it opens this Friday (8/17) in New York at the Angelika Film
Center downtown and the Paris Theatre uptown.
Labels: Frank Langella, Sci-Fi films