Sometimes a movie’s premise can be a turn off not because it sounds too cliched, or too boring, or too dumb, or too corny. Sometimes a premise can be turn off because it sounds a little too original, too different, too interesting. Because all of that, when combined with it being a little indie, a little art house, a little cool, can make a movie seem like it’s going to be incessantly twee and precious. And it’s that fear that has kept me from watching Robot and Frank for so long, even though I heard nothing but great things about it since it came out two years ago.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a retired cat burglar. His son, (James Marsden as Hunter) visits every weekend to make sure his aging father is OK, but their relationship is conflicted at best. To make sure his father is receiving constant supervision and care, Hunter buys him a state of the art robot. A robot who can cook, clean, monitor Frank’s lifestyle and encourage him to live healthier. At first opposed to his new house guest, Frank soon sees some advantages when he realises the robot can follow Frank’s meticulous orders to commit intricate burglaries.
The thrill of these robberies gives Frank a new lease on life, even going so far as to have a red hot crack at local red hot librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). His daughter (Liv Tyler as Madison) soon arrives, under the guise of saving him from the home prison she claims the robot has created. What follows is the building of a strangely effective relationship between Frank and his robot, even though the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) constantly reminds Frank (and the audience) that he is nothing more than machinery and programming, with no real personality or feelings.
Frank and his robot’s new hobby is almost immediately discovered by Jake (Jeremy Strong), Jennifer’s new boss at the library and the antithesis of everything we learn about the Frank character and what makes him tick. So on top of the surprisingly real relationship story between Frank and his robot, Jake is piled on to give the story higher stakes as Frank has an enemy who we, the audience, can all hate together.
The premise of Robot and Frank sounds a little too original, too different, too interesting. Because all of that, when combined with it being a little indie, a little art house, a little cool, it made Robot and Frank seem like it was going to be incessantly twee and precious. But now that I’ve watched Robot and Frank, I know that it’s the kind of sweet, sentimental (in all the right ways) movie that made me feel like a real cynical dick for ever thinking it would be anything but that.