Langella far from robotic in ‘Robot and Frank’

by Logan Burd

Robot and Frank 2012

Robot & Frank (2012)

Directed by Jake Schreirer

7.5/10  PG-13

Frank Langella is in classic form in “Robot & Frank,” the 2012 comedy from director Jake Schreirer (Amazon’s entertaining “Alpha House”). Schreirer was recognized with a win at Sundance, but his first feature went basically ignored in theaters, failing to gross even a million dollars more than its relatively small budget. It’s a rare, smart little gem that went grossly underappreciated…until now.

Langella fittingly plays Frank, a crotchety, paranoid old man with a failing memory and a hatred of new technology. Libraries are no longer relevant, and only the elderly (like Frank and the librarian, Jennifer, played by Susan Sarandon) still find value in turning a paper page. Frank’s ailing health causes his son Hunter (James Marsden) to provide him with a walking, talking Robot helper (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), much to Frank and is travelling daughter Madison’s (Liv Tyler) chagrin. But eventually, Frank uses Robot-and-Frank-Imagehis Robot to combat the effects of old age and finally feel young again, perhaps to their detriment.

Langella is far from robotic in his sarcastic, virtuosic performance worthy of praise. Even when he’s dialoguing with a machine, we can see his raw emotion. James Marsden, before the cheese of his role in “Anchorman 2,” loses himself in his witty, emotive performance. It’s a small one, but he’s more real than ever in it. Thankfully, because the annoying voice of Liv Tyler gets to be a little too much sometimes.

In a re-imagined “Driving Miss Daisy” of the 21st century, Christopher Ford singlehandedly writes a visionary sci-fi comedy that doesn’t seem too far off what life is like today. It’s a short (89-minute), efficient tale of the relationship of an old man and his new friend. It’s an enjoyable use of time that has a heart, even if Robot doesn’t.

“Robot & Frank” is on  Blu-ray, DVD, and Netflix.