LIFF26 - Robot & Frank - Cinema Review

'The warmth Schreier finds in eighty-nine minutes is uniquely impressive... many in the audience at LIFF on Saturday lunchtime announced themselves to be rather moist of eye come the finale'

Billed as a Comedy-Drama, it is certainly the latter of those elements which rings fairest in Jake Schreier's Robot & Frank. Masquerading as something of a caper, Schreier's film is actually a gentle exploration of Alzheimer's, dressed up neatly as both farce-like parade and Science-Fiction theorising.

Both latter elements get little time to show their worth, or otherwise, in the film's tight eighty-nine minute runtime, which shows off the exemplary script by Christopher Ford. A solid laugh about Robot's (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) self-destruct mode is about all of note from the humour front, whilst Liv Tyler's nondescript daughter pops up for a little while, notionally with the purpose of posing some ethical questions about Robot's existence. It would be nice, after some time away from the spotlight to report that Tyler is great but the opposite is true; she is weak, stilted and the worst, least convincing part of Schreier's film.

Much more convincing is the warm, occasionally tear-jerking Drama element, which sees Frank (Frank Langella) battling illness and old age, whilst trying to woo Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), pull off 'one last job' (he's an ex-thief) and palm off son Hunter (a very good James Marsden, with little to do). The warmth Schreier finds in eighty-nine minutes is uniquely impressive and it is testament to, rather than damnation of, his skill that many in the audience at LIFF on Saturday lunchtime announced themselves to be rather moist of eye come the finale.

There are though, serious undermining problems. Tyler sticks around for far too long, ruining the mood, the tone and pretty much everything else. 'Villain' Jake (Jeremy Strong) morphs from believably annoying techno-yuppie to full-on nutter with no clue, ruining any unlikeability he possessed at the start. The focus, formerly on Langella and Sarandon, is allowed to drift, meaning that, even though it has some pull, the final third could do much, much better.

Ultimately Robot & Frank is clever, and well produced for the most part. But it is also slight, and not quite as clever as its ideas seem to suggest it could have been. It's not a missed opportunity (at worst it's average), but it is frustrating to see so clear miss-steps in a film full of so much promise.




The 26th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 1st November to 18th November at venues around the city. Programming includes several UK premières, the popular Night Of and Day Of The Dead and a selection of competition films in the Official Selection.

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