American director Jake Schreier’s charming sci-fi, comedy drama, Robot and Frank is set in the not too distant, imaginable future. Frank, (played by Frank Langella), is an aging master burglar now living alone in the country. He’s beginning to show the first signs of dementia and his adult children Madison (Liv Tyler) and Hunter (James Marsden) are becoming increasingly concerned about his well-being. The house is falling into disrepair. Frank’s not eating properly and becoming increasingly confused. Unbeknown to his absent children, most days he walks into a neighbouring town to flirt with Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), a librarian in a grand old library which is about to be shockingly modernised and to shoplift from a local gift store. There’s talk of Frank being moved to a memory centre for his own safekeeping. Frank is incredibly resistant to this. He’s spent substantial chunks of his life incarcerated for his crimes and wishes to retain his independence for as long as he can.
A solution comes in the shape of Robot (voiced by the wonderful Peter Saarsgard). Robot is a kind of AI cross between a butler and a professional carer. He looks like a tiny stormtrooper and soon has Frank’s house and life back in shape. Initially reluctant to embrace Robot, Frank soon warms to the device when he realises Robot’s the perfect sidekick to help him pull off his final heist. The two go on to plan and execute a beautiful piece of cat burglary. There’s a wonderful scene where the local police sergeant, asks for Frank’s help to crack the case. It looks exactly like the kind of perfectly executed crime he’d have pulled off in his younger days. The police officer doesn’t even entertain the thought that an older Frank might still be very capable.
I really enjoyed Robot and Frank. It’s a sweet little film with beautiful performances by Langella and Sarandon. It also raises some interesting questions about the use of AI and technology when it comes to providing dementia care. Frank actually begins to develop a friendship with Robot. His presence in the house goes from being an unwelcome intrusion to something which is both practically and emotionally beneficial; this being the holy grail all technological solutions to healthcare issues are aiming for. The film also takes a gentle look at how ageing is perceived both within familial and societal settings. Both Frank’s children and the people he meets at the library tend to undermine his abilities and dismiss him in different ways. There are some lovely comic touches and a fabulous onscreen rapport between Robot and Frank. If anything, this film goes a little light on the more problematic aspects of assisting someone with dementia to live independently. However, it’s still a heartening and thought-provoking watch.
Robot and Frank was directed by Jake Schreier and released in the UK in March 2013