Age Against the Machine

In ‘Robot & Frank,’ an elderly man makes a connection with his automated caregiver


Frank Langella and director Jake Schreier on the set of “Robot and Frank,” do not seem worried about the impending robot uprising.

Jake Schreier, for one, welcomes our robot overlords. Kind of.

In the director’s new movie, “Robot & Frank,” Frank Langella stars as a former cat burglar who’s struggling with a common problem: He’s getting older, he’s having difficulty taking care of himself, and his kids are worried about him, but he doesn’t want to leave his house.

“It definitely is a movie about how, when you get old, people stop treating you like a person,” Schreier says. “They talk to you like a child, but you don’t feel any different. So the question underneath that was, could an inanimate object be a better friend for you? It would almost be less patronizing.”

The object in the film, which opens Friday, is a high-tech robot that specializes in healthy food, exercise and mental stimulation. Frank tries to convince his Roomba-

on-steroids that their activities should include plotting and executing heists on the wealthy neighbors.

The original script, written by Christopher Ford, set the action 50 years in the future. “We didn’t have the budget to support 50 years in the future,” Schreier says. “So we suggest it’s 10 or 20 years in the future, but we never wanted to be on record as it being this year.”

The relationship between Frank and his robot evolves to the point where Frank feels real emotion, but Schreier was careful not to suggest the robot feels anything in return. The robot “has a manipulation engine — he’s trying to get Frank to exercise, to eat better,” he says. “The robot is programmed against him in this very nefarious way. It’s not WALL·E. The robot is just a series of reasoning, but Frank loves him and that means their relationship is real.”

The one-sided relationship mirrors the way the film was shot. The robot is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, but hidden inside the robo-suit is a woman named Dana Morgan.

“It was so hot when we were filming this thing, and that suit is a nightmare,” Schreier says, so it proved impossible to keep Morgan in the suit for shots in which the robot didn’t appear. That meant Langella sometimes had to act into nothingness.

“It didn’t matter,” Schreier says. “He says, ‘I just had something in my mind that I put in there for the robot.’ And he still won’t tell me what it is.”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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