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Frank Langella explains why “Robot & Frank” isn’t your typical buddy movie

robot and frank

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In his new film, veteran actor Frank Langella plays an aging jewel thief whose life is being stolen away from him by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. When his son buys him a robot butler, his annoyance with his new housemate gradually softens as he learns that the robot could make the perfect parter in crime.

After garnering an award — and quite a bit of positive buzz — at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Robot & Frank” has been building momentum on the festival circuit for its compelling story, its young director Jake Schreier, and its stellar cast, which includes Langella in the lead role, along with Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, and Liv Tyler.

IFC spoke with Langella about the film, which is set in a future not too far from the present day, and showcases the Oscar nominee’s formidable talents as a leading man.

“I couldn’t believe a script about an older man with Alzeihemers dealing with a robot would come my way,” said Langella of what first attracted him to the film. “It was a script that was minus the usual stuffy CEO, head of a corporation, or ‘college professor who doesn’t like the young man dating his daughter’ kind of stuff.”

And even though the robot does a fair share of scene-stealing in the film, it’s Langella’s portrayal of Frank, the former thief, that makes “Robot & Frank” so compelling. It’s a performance made even more impressive by the knowledge that Langella often found himself acting opposite, well… nothing at all.

“[The robot] was in my imagination all the time, so he changed,” he explained, indicating that there were many scenes in which the robot was added well after the scene was shot. “There were different voices at different times, and sometimes there was nobody there — he was sort of mocked-up because we didn’t have any room or it was too hot to put a person inside him. I fashioned a robot in my mind so I could really play opposite whatever sound I heard.”

In the film, Peter Sarsgaard provides the voice of the robot, who helps get Frank’s life back on track and help him find something he can get excited about — in this case, planning a heist with his new mechanical partner. While the robot is a reluctant participant at first, his prime directive to get Frank up and active again supersedes any qualms about the criminal nature of their activities.

But rather than slipping into the conventions of your standard buddy movie, the film takes some unique turns that, in the end, were some of the elements that Langella found most appealing about it.

“It didn’t [feel like a buddy movie],” he explained. “It felt like a movie about alienation and loneliness and sadness, and human beings trying to find each other.”

And possibly most interesting element of all is the darker, underlying theme in “Robot & Frank,” which connects Frank’s return to a more active, cognizant life with a return to his criminal habits.

“No one’s ever mentioned that, but I think it’s true,” he told IFC when asked about that unusual evolution for a character. “In the beginning of the film, he’s disheveled and disoriented and dirty, and there’s food all over his pajamas, and he’s living in a dirty house. And then the robot comes along and reenergizes him, and gives him some validation, gives him some reason. The fact that he decides as he’s coming back to himself to pick up his old habit — which is to be a second-story man — is what I think is so original about the film.

“It doesn’t turn into a sentimental buddy movie at all,” he added. “The guy doesn’t change. He says. ‘Oh, I can teach this robot to steal!'”



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.