We haven’t had a Hope for the Genre in a few weeks, but never fear–we have hope! And from Frank Langella no less.

Genre: Soft Sci-Fi/Social Sci-Fi

Medium: Film

The premise: Robot & Frank is the story of Frank (Langella), a retired jewel thief with dementia, whose son, Hunter, (James Marsden) buys him a “helper robot” (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to look after him during the week. Frank also has a daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), who lives and works abroad. Until the robot’s arrival, Frank’s life is generally aimless and he often loses focus and orientation. His sole joy seems to come from visiting the (incredibly neglected) local library where he flirts with the head librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). When the library becomes the target of a reclamation nonprofit that wants to “create a community experience” in the building, but also get rid of all the books, Frank reverts to his old ways–with the robot’s assistance.

Why it’s awesome: Good lord, Langella is a giant among Lilliputians, and this film shows exactly why. His portrayal of Frank is utterly heartbreaking, depicting a realistic look at memory loss (unlike, say, in The Notebook) and a man who has been left behind by the world. Sarandon, Marsden, and Tyler round out the supporting cast beautifully. You’d expect the characters, especially the estranged children, to be less multidimensional but I found their alternate disillusionment and optimism to be very convincing. Sarsgaard’s voice work for the robot was pretty much perfect–it reminded me of Kevin Spacey’s GERTY from Moon in all the best ways. Moreover, it’s a terrific collision of genres: heist movie, family drama, and near-future science fiction. Bonus points for the futuristic hipsters who are into books because they’re “so retro. “Awful and funny.

Why it’s hopeful: Like the other films I’ve discussed so far, Robot & Frank brings a humanity to its material that science fiction is often criticized for lacking. What’s especially great about it, however, is how essential the science fiction is to the human material. It’s completely believable that we would direct our achievements in robotics toward elder care. And Robot & Frank doesn’t work without the robot. Their relationship is absolutely the central relationship to the movie, so that when Frank admits of the robot, “He’s my friend,” it’s an absolutely beautiful and moving moment. Another reason this movie makes me hopeful for the genre is that it isn’t afraid to be complicated or sad. I can absolutely imagine this story, in less capable hands, being reduced to something gimmicky or trite. Instead, it’s complex; it reflects the difficulties of the situation and fully acknowledges that Frank’s condition cannot simply be solved. Personally, I don’t mind having my heartstrings tugged if it’s earned–and they definitely earned it.


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