I recently watched the film Robot and Frank,which is a quirky, sweet film set in the near future about an older man progressively losing his memory. His son buys him a robot companion to help him with odd chores around the house.
When I first started watching this movie, I was instantly reminded of Lars and the Real Girl, a film from several years ago that has several similarities and shares the same quirky, endearing qualities.
I loved Lars and the Real Girl. It's silly and sweet and innocent and charming and disturbing and great! In the vein of films like The Straight Story, this film relies on its uniqueness to reel you in. But, unlike other quirky films, the charming qualities of the characters kick in and win you over completely…just like "Bianca" wins over the hearts of all of the townspeople of the small, Northern town.
Ryan Gosling plays Lars perfectly here…and it’s a tough role to tackle. He has to be low-key and expressionless at times when others aren't. He has to completely "buy" into what he's selling, no matter what. But, he has to avoid going too far in the opposite direction with the low-key behavior. Basically, Gosling becomes Lars here…just as the supporting players come to embody their personas. You might cry, you might laugh, but most definitely you will smile at this lovely film.
Robot and Frank, on the other hand, never goes into the “weird” territory that Lars approaches, but Frank’s relationship with the robot is just as heartfelt…in a different way. In Lars, Bianca is a romantic interest for Lars. In Robot and Frank, the robot is a partner for Frank…in both companionship and housework, but also with burglary. Frank loathes the idea of the robot at first and then, when he finds out the robot could help him with burglaries, Frank’s fondness for the robot grows. As they work more and more together, Frank’s reliance on the robot begins to border on the unhealthy…just as Lars’ reliance on Bianca becomes unhealthy as well.
Though different, both films show that genuine friendship can be found in the strangest places.
Robot and Frank: 2012, PG-13, 89 minutes, directed by Jake Schreier, starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of the robot.
Lars and the Real Girl: 2007, PG-13, 106 minutes, directed by Craig Gillespie, starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider.
The Niles Library owns these titles on DVD.