Set some time in the future, Robot & Frank is a delightful dramatic comedy, a buddy picture, and, for good measure, a heist film. Curmudgeonly old Frank (Frank Langella) lives alone. His children are concerned about his well-being and buy him a caretaker robot. Initially resistant to the idea, Frank soon appreciates the benefits – like nutritious meals and a clean house – and eventually begins to treat his robot like a true companion. With his robot’s assistance, Frank’s passion for his old, unlawful profession is reignited.
Robot & Frank screenwriter Christopher Ford wrote the short screenplay the film is based on after hearing an National Public Radio story about how several companies are designing robots that will allow the elderly to live on their own longer by helping them with daily tasks, dispensing medication, and aiding communication with family and emergency services. As artificial intelligence improves, these nurse/servants could eventually end up being true friends and companions, helping stave off the isolation and loneliness that can be as dangerous to senior citizens as any physical ailment.
Christopher Ford talks about the effects of technology on our lives as the theme of Robot & Frank: ‘One of the first pseudo-AI programs I ever saw was a therapy chat bot named “Eliza”. In its role as a therapist, it was already aiming to help emotionally. Of course it was all just a trick, but even still, I think there was something to it. I don’t think science fiction has to show technology affecting us negatively. It’s just that when you’re trying to be dramatic, that sort of situation tends to work. Technology can be incredibly positive, especially for our emotional wellbeing, as long as it lets us understand ourselves better – but we have to not make it the center of our lives.’ (ReThink)