“Robot & Frank” (Revisited)

Hello everyone. It’s been a while. Since naming the 2022 Movie of the Year, I got busy. Real busy. And though I said that my review site was coming to a close after the tenth annual Juicy Awards, I never intended to have my last post be the Movie of the Year. There’s a wrap-up post in the works; a dedication of sorts to this site that I have been posting to for now ten years.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to revisit the film that kicked off my long journey of film analysis: “Robot & Frank.” I reviewed this feature way back on March 1st, 2013. Back then, I was posting these to Facebook, and managed to describe my thoughts on the film in only a few sentences:

I liked the plot of the movie and the acting. I felt through the middle of the movie it had a weird transition, but other than that I thought it was a good movie to watch. FINAL SCORE: 83%= Juicy Popcorn

Now, over ten years later, I sat down on a Friday night to watch this movie once more, having not seen it since my initial review. Read on, as I offer more insight on this film and if it holds up to my original score…

FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE REVIEW: “Robot & Frank” stars Frank Langella (The Twelve Chairs, Frost/Nixon), James Marsden (X-Men [2000], Enchanted), Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Snitch), Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Incredible Hulk [2008]), Jeremy Strong (The Big Short, Succession [TV series]), Jeremy Sisto (Waitress, Clueless), and Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State, The Batman [2022]). It is directed by Jake Schreier (Paper Towns, Kidding [TV series]) and written by Christopher Ford (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Cop Car).

Frank (Langella), a former jewel thief suffering with early onset alzheimer’s, is gifted a robot by his son (Marsden) who fears that his father isn’t able to take care of himself. Little does he know that Frank has other intentions in using his gift.

Wow. What a blast from the past this was. Having only seen this film one time ten years ago, there was a lot I forgot going in. And since my brain has had ten years to develop (both in intellect and taste), I pondered if this movie would really be as good as it was when I first saw it. Truth is… it kind of is.

In Jake Schreier’s directorial debut, “Robot & Frank” is a beautiful – albeit simple – approach to the theme of memory. Set in the near future, this story focuses on an old man losing his mind in a world trying to preserve what once was. That world in particular is a library Frank visits, which is under renovation to become a landmark; instead of solely renting out books, they observe what it once was to rent out books. Crazy how after ten years, a movie like this is still prevelent, and how that “near future” is inching closer and closer to us.

The story itself is an interesting one. Setting it in the near future almost acts as a secondary tool to the main component, that being Frank’s companionship with his robot. At first, Frank wants nothing to do with the machine; he’s better off without technology, and lives out as a dinosaur in an ever-changing world. But slowly, Frank comes to realize how helpful his robot is, and how he can utilize it for his own advantage. That advantage being to rob people.

I’ve heard somewhere that you should never retire. In the case of Frank, that means getting back to stealing jewels. Who would’ve thought that in plotting heists, his memory would improve? It kind of makes sense, and thankfully the filmmakers didn’t go as far to have his memory fully repaired. Even with his mind being put to work, he still makes mistakes and shows signs of forgetfulness, which ultimately get him into big trouble. It’s well written, even if Frank’s capabilities (and luck) are a bit stretched. I wrote before that I liked the plot, and I feel the same way this go-around. Did I recognize the throughline of memory and absorb the bittersweet nature of what this kind of tale possesses? Probably not to the full extent. After all, I wrote that the movie had a “weird transition,” which I can only chock up to Frank using his robot to steal jewels; it wasn’t really weird, given how Frank’s backstory is clearly stated in the first act. It was only a matter of time before he recognized that his robot could pick locks. Knowing myself, I probably came up with an con, so as to justify my not-perfect score (which I would continue to do for the rest of my years reviewing haha).

The acting in this is fairly solid. I love Frank Langella, and think that his approach to this is subtle but impactful. He’s playing that crotchety old guy role, though he puts his own stamp on it. The supporting cast they fill out the roster with are notable names, all of which I have adored in other pictures. Their roles aren’t really complex, so it’s not like they are stepping out of the box. However, they are natural enough to simply exist within the frame and feed the story engine. Susan Sarandon is a stand-out, and it’s always nice to see James Marsden (he just has a welcoming look that I like to see). Liv Tyler was also good, though her role didn’t interest me as much. She existed mainly though video calls, only to come in toward the end of the film and wine about her father; I don’t blame the character’s thoughts, I just don’t care for the role as much as the others.

As the film progresses and we reach the end credits, Frank’s dilemma worsens and worsens. His glory days of being a thief are fun to see revisited, and only sadder to watch the repercussions of. There’s a scene where Frank and his robot lock themselves in Frank’s house toward the end; the conversation they share is so bittersweet and one can’t help but get misty eyed. It’s a beautiful wrap-up of the theme of memory, and how it’s something that is longed for by Frank, yet disposable to Robot. I loved it. And while this isn’t a movie that takes big risks or huge leaps in story, it manages to craft an endearing message through small moments. Besides a twist that didn’t really work for me toward the third act (involving a revelation Frank has with pictures), this is a solid film that I would recommend. Or, in the words of 14-year-old Harrison, it’s a “good movie to watch.” FINAL SCORE: 85%= Juicy Popcorn

Here is the trailer:

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