This warm and comforting American comedy-drama, set in a near future where android helpers have become a staple of healthcare, presents not only a cosy viewing experience, but also makes several interesting observations about man’s relationship with machines and technology. A ‘comedy’ in the sense that Alexander Payne’s films are ‘comedies’, Jake Schreier’s Robot & Frank (2012) is a successful hybrid of genres that is at times touching, at other times laugh-out-loud humorous. The story follows protagonist Frank (an endearing Frank Langella), a retired jewel thief who is struggling with a deteriorating memory.
Worried by his father’s condition, Frank’s son Hunter (James Marsden), a successful Princeton graduate and now city big-shot, purchases his dad an automated helper, which Frank affectionately dubs ‘Robot’. Frank’s peace-loving, globe-travelling daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) is vehemently against the decision, asserting that her father in no way needs a robot disrupting his life. Initially, Frank is also against his new companion. However, the two quickly form a bond over a seemingly random action that sees the robot commit a crime, much to Frank’s surprise – and interest.
Robot & Frank makes several observations about the possibility of robot sentience, though doesn’t attempt to draw any particularly radical conclusions. There is more speculation on the nature of our – that is to say the human race’s – relationship with our robot brethren, a subject that is becoming increasingly more relevant as technological advances in the field of artificial intelligence continue to progress at a rapid rate. Do we react more positively if a robot is an android, that is to say, it has a human appearance? Does convincing bipedal movement, a recent advancement in the field of robotics, help us accept these automated creatures as fellow Earth-dwellers?
Unlike films such as James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and Alex Proyas’ I, Robot (2004), which paint doomsday scenarios of the development of artificial intelligence, Robot & Frank presents us with a refreshingly understated, optimistic and highly plausible version of our future with technology. It’s a cosy ninety-minutes, shot with warm filters and accompanied by an impressively modern score from débutante composer Francis and the Lights. The end result is a suitably pleasant aesthetic, but there’s depth here if you wish to explore it.