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Robot & Frank review

Movies about old age often veer towards the sentimental or sad.

Jake Schreier’s mildly futuristic debut finds the sweet spot in between, braiding indie-cute whimsy with insights into memory.

Even when the plot stretches credulity, Frank Langella’s effortless lead and a surprise-strewn script help make this slight-seeming charmer something more than an Amour for softies.

Langella is Frank, a roguish 70-year-old without friends or a future. So senile he hasn’t noticed his milk has curdled, he barely notices his life also curdling: only Skype calls from his daughter (Liv Tyler), visits to a local librarian (Susan Sarandon) and minor theft keep him active.

The Robot is, er, Robot, a mecha-butler given to Frank by his son (James Marsden) to help with chores.

It’s used by writer Chris D. Ford to revise the buddy-movie blueprint of a soul-dead man revived by an unlikely pal.

Unfolding like Up plugged into WALL•E tech, Frank’s gradual thawing towards his soft-spoken (by Peter Sarsgaard) home-help gizmo doesn’t surprise.

Yet the ’bot still refreshes genre clichés in its graceful way with Frank and deadpan delivery of lines like “It’s time for your enema”.

Frank’s realisation that Robot can help revive his career in burglary puts a mischievous spin on the conventions, which are then more meaningfully spun when Frank’s targets turn out to be the toxic yuppies who want to “modernise” his beloved library.

Warm (Sarandon) and witty (Tyler in rare self-parodic mode) side-casting and some romping run-ins with the cops keep things light, but not at the cost of depth.

With tender care, Schreier nudges us towards subtle meditations on how the things that make us - “progress”, memories - can break us in old age. Some twists aren’t quite so subtle but the understated ache of realisation in Langella’s face takes up the slack, lodging itself gently but firmly in the memory banks.

Playful, patient and finally poignant, Schreier’s deceptively placid odd-couple winner runs the risk of looking minor. But it carefully exceeds expectation, helped in no small measure by Langella’s wily, wistful lead.

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