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Saturday, 15 September 2012 20:37

'Robot & Frank' presents an appealing, very human story

Frank Langella as Frank & Live Tyler as Madison Frank Langella as Frank & Live Tyler as Madison
Written by Diane Carson
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Robot & Frank could easily have been a sappy or melodramatic indulgence. Instead, director Jake Schreier's premiere film is a delightful, character-driven story of an aging, increasingly forgetful father of two, living alone in a lovely, woodsy area. His career-centered son Hunter and free-spirited daughter Madison worry increasingly about him. Enter Robot, courtesy of Hunter.

Robot, who has no other given name, will offer companionship, though Frank doesn't want it, and Robot will clean up the house mess, coach Frank on healthy eating and exercise, cook nutritious meals, and put Frank on a schedule. Frank rebels, resists, and refuses until he finds that he can cajole and bargain Robot into aiding and abetting his previous illegal activities: burglary but only of the best jewelry. A return to Frank's specialty adds a jaunty subplot with a sourpuss couple as the targets and Jeremy Sisto, of television's Law & Order fame, as the local, smiling cop sure of his perpetrator.

Set in the 'near future' the story is sufficiently recognizable to feel familiar and sufficiently imaginative to have great fun with the technology: the gifted robot, big screen Skype phone calls, sleek little cars, and libraries morphing into access points for electronic instead of print volumes. Heading this village's library is love interest Jennifer, Susan Sarandon, woefully underutilized in the film.

Instead, Frank Langella holds center stage with an unyielding determination and comic aplomb. Refusing to soften Frank's edges or to indulge any sentimentality, Langella delivers yet another brilliant tour-de-force performance. The well-written, clever script by Christopher D. Ford keeps the humor foremost while the undercurrent of emotion provides a solid foundation without ever tipping over into sheer silliness.

Peter Sarsgaard, who provides the voice of Robot, interprets the intonations perfectly, giving slightly awkward inflections to colloquialisms and a formal, flat delivery for HAL-type computer comments. For years some have advocated an Oscar for voice performance, and Sarsgaard's multifaceted, lively readings will add to the reasons for it.

Robot & Frank, note who gets top billing, is bright, quick, and a refreshingly upbeat filmic pleasure. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

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