Posted Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, at 9:45 AM
A still of Frank Langella in Robot and Frank.
One of the hits at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is Robot and Frank, an unusual story of a lonely old man named Frank who makes friends with a household robot—who becomes his accomplice to burglary. (Yesterday, io9 labeled it the “next great science-fiction indie.”) The film is set in the near future. Frank is losing his memory, the robot has perfect memory, and together, it turns out, they make a good team for crime.
I know that sounds like it might be really terrible: a heist/sci-fi/buddy movie that’s about old age? But it somehow works, thanks to careful writing and a talented cast, including Frank Langella (as Frank), Susan Sarandon (as a librarian Frank has a crush on), and Liv Tyler as Frank’s daughter. (The robot is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard.)
The film is more E.T. than 2001, charming and sentimental rather than terrifying. But it sneaks a few serious messages in as well. The movie asks whether being truly alive depends in some sense on having a working memory. And the film hits a nerve when it makes clear just how much easier it can be to love our machines than our family members, especially when the former are programmed to help us, and the latter, seemingly, programmed to irritate. (And these questions feel a lot more resonant now than they would have just a few years ago, as robots really are entering new parts of our life.)