Susan Granger’s review of “Robot & Frank” (Samuel Goldwyn/Stage 6)
Set in the near future, this sly, fanciful story revolves around Frank Weld (Frank Langella), an irascible, retired jewel thief, who is divorced and living alone in the old family house in rural Cold Spring, New York. The place is a slovenly mess and Frank’s memory is obviously failing, which greatly concerns his grown children: exasperated Hunter (James Marsden) and peripatetic Madison (Liv Tyler) with whom he communicates via an advanced version of Skype.
Since Frank is adamant about not moving to a “memory facility,” Hunter arrives one day with an electronic ‘caregiver.’ This expensive robot (voiced pitch-perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard) is specifically programmed to monitor Frank’s daily activities in order to stimulate his mind and body, while making and serving him healthy, nourishing meals. At first Frank balks, but soon the cheerful robot is accompanying him everywhere, even to his favorite haunt, the local library. That’s where the kindly librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) regretfully informs him that all the books are being removed to make way for the “digital experience.” But locked in a safe, she’s stashed a rare, valuable copy of “Don Quixote,” which Frank immediately plans to steal. To his surprise and delight, Frank discovers that, given proper instruction, robot learns how to pick locks quickly and, best of all, has no conscience. For the first time in his life, Frank has an accomplice, as one successful heist leads to another.
Making his feature film debut, commercial director Jake Schreier , working from a cleverly contrived script by Christopher Ford, establishes a light-hearted, believable bond between man and machine, even though robot repeatedly states that he does not have emotions.
In a tour-de-force performance, Frank Langella’s crusty character not only has real memory lapses but can also feign them, like when he shoplifts at the chic boutique that’s moved into the store front that was once his favorite café. This Alzheimer’s allegory combines pathos with humor.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Robot & Frank” is an amusing, ingratiating 8, leaving a bittersweet afterglow.