I was lucky enough to catch this film during the LOCO film fest back I was reviewing for Hotminute Magazine* back in January; I can honestly say, I had no idea what to expect. So I banked on two things: my fondness for Frank Mingella and penchant for Sci-fi. The faceless robot, that looks like the upgraded hybrid of Roger from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the girl robot in WALL-E is as sci-fi as it gets. Oh and it’s set sometime in the future…a, rather unnerving, near and very fathomable future.
Retired cat-burglar, Frank (Mingella) lives in the middle of nowhere in particular, with no-one in particular. I say this because he has two grown up children – Liv Tyler and James Marsden, respectively – who, one via wireless video calls and the other dropping by in weekly visits, are concerned about their aged fathers’ ability to function without supervised help.
Robot is programmed to help improve Frank’s mental and physical health. Cut to numerous scenes of their new daily routines.The idea of a nursing home is dangled like a noose in front of old Frank, so he reluctantly agrees to a compromise from his Son; a live in Robot…called Robot because, upon meeting the thing for the first time, Frank refuses to give it a human name.
He is so uncomfortable and perplexed by the over-friendly, faceless machine and instantly makes up his mind not to trust it: “that thing is going to kill me in my sleep” he warns his son gloomily.
Robot is programmed to help improve Frank’s mental and physical health. Cut to numerous scenes of their new daily routines.
When he realises that Robot is unable to distinguish the difference between “legal recreational activities and criminal ones”1. , Frank decides to put Robot to some other use – by helping him get back into the thieving trade. His mark, a bespectacled, pompous self-regarding developer called Jake.
A smart, thought-provoking story of friendship that takes a refreshingly honest look at ageism; mental health; the future of our relationship with technology; deflated social awareness and our increasingly lacking ability to obtain human connections .
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I usually see movies depicting the elderly it always feels borderline condescending, sometimes even disrespectful and misplaced. Robot and Frank bond because they are essentially treated the same.
One is shut off from the world he still has every right to be apart of, the other, its inevitable fate marked, until something better comes along. What’s also brilliant about this film is that it goes against the grain in how it portrays the elderly by creating a character as subversive and rogue as Frank.
The subject of Dementia or Alzheimer’s isn’t shoved down our throats – it’s never actually mentioned, the writer and director trust the audience to connect the dots; just like the trust the audience to believe that Robot is harmless by simply allowing Frank’s actions determine how his feelings (and by proxy ours) change towards it.
Everyone in it that has a supporting role is fantastic. In particular Susan Sarandon as Frank’s potential love interest, Jennifer, is a gorgeous to watch. Jeremy Strong as the young developer and Frank’s nemesis, Jake, is a worthy villain and justified mark for Franks return to crime. Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of Robot couldn’t have been better cast. He’s so gentle, his accent slightly foreign from american. It’s articulated, enunciated and rather perfect.
Robot and Frank is so much more than impending death and grumpy old men. It’s genuinely a funny film; engaging from beginning to end with a brilliant side story about ever-lasting romance, the unwavering hunt for adventure and I always like to think a movie is as good as its soundtrack. In this case Frankie and The Lights provides a well produced atmospheric and electronic score. I fell in love with it and honestly, it probably didn’t do a whole lot in making the film great, but it probably made it better.