May 21, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 06 September 2012 10:44
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film about aging and technology, Robot and Frank.
For any of us, watching a family member age can be challenging. As much as we want to freeze the passage of time, we know that days, months and years pass, and people change. Sadly, as those we love age, we begin to observe fundamental changes in how they live day to day.
Robot & Frank explores, on one level, how an aging man copes with the adjustments that time requires. As the film begins, senior citizen Frank lives alone in his home in a manner that may ring true to anyone who has cared for aging parents. The house is cluttered, the meals are inconsistent and the daily routine is poorly managed. The situation deteriorates to a point that, as for many children, this man’s son feels he has to take serious steps to help his father.
The son’s solution to the father’s challenges is, well, less than conventional: he purchases a robot programmed to provide home care. Within a matter of movie minutes, the house is spotless, the food is healthy and each day is properly scheduled. More important, the mind and spirit of the aging man appear to significantly sharpen thanks to the personal attention he receives from this most surprising source. He becomes a renewed man thanks to the attention his new, mechanical friend provides.
While the film’s advertising makes it look like a comedy, and highlights Frank’s past work as a cat burglar, Robot & Frank plays as a serious film. There is nothing inherently funny about Frank’s life or anything amusing about his temptation to return to a life of crime. The strength of the film lies in its willingness to examine, without hesitation, how the mind can age and the power of denial to absorb the impact of physical and mental change.
The film weakens when commenting on the role of technology in day-to-day living. As surprising as the robot’s capabilities may be, and as entertaining as his dialogue may sound, the machine’s presence dilutes how film explores an aging person’s ability to cope. Director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford spend too much screen time developing the robot’s character at the expense of additional exploration of the challenges that Frank faces.
The performances, however, strengthen the human dimension. Frank Langella, an actor better known for his work on stage than on screen, creates a well-shaded portrayal of the aging man, never hesitating to reveal the character’s fears or weaknesses. Susan Sarandon, always welcome in any part in any film, reaches beyond the script to add depth to a woman in Frank’s life, and Liv Tyler is touching as his estranged daughter. Unfortunately, while Langella holds his own on screen with the robot, the screen time devoted to technology undermines the contributions of the supporting characters.
Any film that dares to explore the challenges of aging deserves attention. Unlike last year’s The Iron Lady, that magically brought the realities of the process to life, Robot & Frank lets the focus veer from its potentially powerful message to the easy laughs a robot can provide.
Robot & Frank
* Content: Medium. While Robot & Frank may be marketed as a comedy, its nutritional value comes from its insightful look into issues of aging parents.
* Entertainment: Medium. When focusing on the aging parent, the film works; when commenting on the role of technology, its focus sputters.
* Message: Medium. We learn much more about the challenges that age can bring than the opportunities technology presents.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to focus on the issues of aging is welcome.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the realities that age can deliver.
Robot & Frank, Rated PG 13 for language, 89 minutes.
3 Popcorn Buckets
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