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IN SHORT: A great one for us grownups. [Not Rated?. 88 minutes]
Usually we cringe when we hear about films that (got) raves at Sundance. Not this time.
Set in a "very near future," Robot and Frank is the story of a man named Frank (Frank Langella), an elderly, long divorced father of two. Frank's daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) travels the world in an unspecified job (we think it's archeology related). Son Hunter (James Marsden) visits weekly but worries enough about his father's fast depreciating memory, that he decides that dad needs a companion. Given the title of the film, you've no doubt guessed that said companion is a robot. Specifically, a top of the line VGC-60L personal aide (voiced by a "human sounding" Peter Sarsgaard). Never named but always eager to learn, the VGC-60L would be gathering dust in the closet if Frank had his way. Then again, Frank hasn't read the manual (so to speak) which reveals that Frank's new best friend can be trained to do all sorts of handy things.
Like picking locks. Like figuring out the combination to safes holding valuable jewels. You get the picture? Yes, burglary was Frank's former occupation. Well, prior to two jail terms -- six years for posession of stolen property. Ten years for tax evasion, which, apparently, is the fallback when authorities cannot peg thievery on an alleged culprit. Aside from the occasional bit of shoplifting, it is a life Frank has left behind.
Until Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), the local librarian, catches Frank's eye. That, and the fact that the library is in possession of a rare, and thus valuable, edition of Don Quixote . . . you figure out the rest of the story and feel free to guess the possible twists and turns.
We'll only say that the use of aging characters with memory problems is one cliche that really makes our skin crawl. Usually. A-listers like Sarandon and Langella aren't about to fall back on cliche and, together, the result is anything but. We cannot get specific about how director Jake Schreier managed to elicit the interaction between man and machine. Yeah, we know, good actors do good work but Robot and Frank is designed to perfection. We absolutely believed we were watching a human and a machine. So, props to screenwriter Christopher D. Ford as well, for the underpinnings of what turned out to be a great movie.
There are a lot of places this story could go, as Frank ages and the attention of concerned offspring increases; of the relationship between Frank and Jennifer; of the same between Frank and the Robot and some minor bits that spring from those big three. Robot and Frank keeps everything simple and is, remarkably, touching as well.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Robot and Frank, he would have paid . . .
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