Thursday, February 21, 2013

Movie: Robot & Frank (2012)

Frank Langella wrote one of the odder, more compelling books I read in 2012. He also starred in one of the year’s more underrated movies.

Frank (the character, not the actor) lives alone in bucolic upstate New York, which makes his estrangement from his family and his escalating dementia worse. His son does what he can by buying the old man the latest in near-future amenities: an automated home health care aide (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). Frank initially resists and resents this chipper microchipped interloper with its insistence on regular schedules and hobbies. But once he sees the robot in action, he decides to return to his old profession – cat burglar – with a new partner. Thus stumbling into a legal gray area not covered by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

Don’t let Robot & Frank’s geniality fool you. Beneath its unruffled surface lie some tough-minded thoughts on aging and obsolescence, which are not at all the same thing. The entire cast is fine, especially Langella and Susan Sarandon as the flesh-and-blood librarian that Frank wants to take out more than any of the few remaining print books. With its gentle charm and matter of fact exploration of how advanced technology could be integrated into everyday life, the movie has the feel of a Ray Bradbury story.