First time feature director Jake Schreier’s Robot & Frank opened the Sarasota Film Festival tonight. Lacking only klieg lights, red carpets running from the curb straight into the theater, or a flotilla of limousines, the packed house at the elegant Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, thoroughly enjoyed the film which, prior to tonight, had garnered awards at the most recent Sundance Film Festival.
The film has successfully woven together three separate or disparate plot lines. On one side we have the tale of a friendship that grows after a rocky start. On the other hand we have a jewel heist. And smack dab in the middle there’s story of an elderly man, living alone in a house in upstate New York, and his memory is failing. Simply, it is a kind of dementia that is steadily encroaching and edging its way into this man’s life. Only he’s not recognizing that it is happening to him.
The film is set in the near future without specifying how far into the future that might be. Some of the cell phones and other forms of communication equipment that we see look a little advanced. But people wear recognizable clothing, and live in familiar looking homes.
Frank Langella stars as the titular Frank. He is about 72 years old. His two children are adults, and his wife has long since vanished into the wind. You see, Frank was a ‘second-story man‘. What you might call a jewel thief. He’s done two stretches in prison – once for a robbery, and the other on what Frank called – a lightweight charge of tax fraud.
He looks like he’s okay. I mean he walks and talks, he shops and sometimes shop-lifts, and he has an interest in the local librarian (Jennifer) played in a wonderfully subdued manner by Susan Sarandon. His diet is nothing special. For example, he enjoys the kid friendly but definitely not nutritious choco-pops cereal in the morning. But he forgets things like taking out the trash, or having fresh milk instead of spoiled milk for his cereal. He thinks he’s had dinner recently at a local restaurant called Harry’s – only it has been closed for years.
When his grown son Hunter comes to visit him weekly (a lengthy 10 hour round trip) Frank asks him how he’s doing at Princeton. “Dad – I went to Princeton long ago. It’s been 15 years since I got out of school.”