Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
I’m breaking my rule a bit here because most movie fans will have already heard of Robot & Frank (Netflix, Amazon Prime). But who cares? Most of my readers are spambots anyway. (“Great to work on this article of information you give! I’m sure it has touched all the internet people on building up a new web page.”) Even spambots need something to watch, so why not give them a movie featuring a strong robotic lead? I’m breaking my rule for the good of the spambots, internet people.
It’s not that Robot & Frank was some major release or that it did any business at the box office; it didn’t. But it did get all kinds of attention at Sundance last year and it has a monstrous celebrity cast. Frank Langella is the main character, a retired cat burglar suffering from degenerative memory loss, and Peter Sarsgaard voices his adorable robot sidekick. Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, James Marsden, and Jeremy Sisto fill out the impressive supporting cast. I was surprised I didn’t recognize the actors playing Frank’s obnoxious yuppy nemeses because even the random shopgirl who appears in all of two scenes was played by SNL‘s Ana Gasteyer.
Honestly, I’m curious: Robot & Frank was written and directed by two feature film first-timers. How the fuck did they get two and a half million dollars to make this (admittedly decent) movie on spec, and how many generations of grandkids did they sell to Lucifer to get this cast?
Whatever went into making it, Robot & Frank is quite charming and there are plenty of funny moments as Frank learns to deal with and eventually rely on his near-future robotic aide. It even manages to get all sweet and sentimental at times without being sappy. Best of all, the story never loses sight of the tragic, irreversible nature of diseases like Alzheimer’s. There is no miracle cure brought about by love and a renewed sense of purpose. Though comedies demand some form of happy ever after, this one comes with a sobering recognition of Frank’s new normal. It’s touching but not heavy-handed, pragmatic but still more or less lighthearted.
Added bonus: So apparently robots are a thing that is happening. Despite the steep developmental hill the technology still has to climb, walking computers appear to be an inescapable part of our future landscape. That raises one major ethical question (and ONLY one): At what point will robots be able to routinely beat humans in a fight?
I’m pretty sure I could fuck Asimo’s shit up with one hand tied behind my back. A strong breeze would ruin that little guy. But the Terminator would rip my ass through my mouth even while he was trapped in a hydraulic press. Somewhere between Battle Bots and Real Steel, though, we’re bound to hit a point where the outcome of a human-robot battle royale would not be predetermined. I imagine the human competitors will be more agile but the machines much tougher. So most fights will be a round or two of some dude jabbing at a clumsy machine that can’t track him down, before the robot eventually lands a right cross and knocks the guy’s head into the stands. I would pay money to see this.