In movies, I tend to go for action, suspense, and heroic triumph, so for me Robocall seems an unlikely attention grabber--it's about as low key as film gets. Yet each discrete scene unfolds upon the preceding ones with a constant, subtly increasing emotional suspense. Robocop quickly and completely drew me into the life of widower and Vietnam vet G.T Benz (Gary Sturm) and his friends. Sturm also wrote and directed the film. Sturm is pitch perfect as Benz, one of the earliest baby boomers (a birth date of 1946 sounds about right). As of 2018 or so, he is anybody's nondescript grandfather--not elderly, but definitely heading that direction; a nice guy living alone and lonely, but no complainer, except about an unceasing barrage of "robo calls" from a solar energy provider. Benz always picks up his cell phone because he also gets occasional calls from his daughter or a friend or his doctor's office and he's afraid he'll "miss something" if he doesn't. His robo caller's voice could be generated by a computer capable of deciphering and answering questions and even responding in kind to Bentz' rising frustration with their "relationship." Or the calls might be automatically (robotically) generated and, when a line opens, swiftly shifted to a live human worker. It's weirdly hard to tell. And that is one element of the film's portrait of 21st Century aging in America: Benz has accepted the presence of computers and cell phones in his life--he uses email and accesses the web to find contact info for government officials--but he doesn't like the devices. And, despite the convenience increasingly widespread computerization supposedly offers, in Robocall life for younger workers never appears anything but hectic, almost incredibly so. As we hear (over cell phone) from Benz' daughter, she has always "gotta run, Dad." Benz' wife has died. His only remaining "family" are the friends he made in Vietnam: Riley, movingly portrayed by the remarkably versatile Gary Saderup; "Ketch" (G. Larry Butler) whose physical presence in the film is short but casts a long shadow; and radiantly nice guy Harris (Miles Cranford). But this isn't a Vietnam movie. While Benz has a few short flashbacks, the war itself is deep background. With the exception of their wives, still living or now dead, the men's friendships forged in that war are the most deeply humane, emotionally fulfilling relationships of their lives 50 years on. And their lives today--in particular, Benz' current life--is the film's subject. Robocall presents an American dystopia without apocalyptic alien invasions or climate change catastrophes. The film is the world of human connection--of face to face communion and, with it, the possibility of actual meaning--burning out of today's world as slow time itself burns out in our ever-more-frenetic, technology based, technology driven civilization. It's a slow movie, and rightly so, paced to the quotidian reality of the one remaining generation that vividly remembers a time when neither children nor adults were wedded to smartphones; when we weren't drowning in a digital sea of demands upon our attention and distractions from the most time consuming, complex dimension of all human life: love.
G.T. Benz, a Viet Nam vet and recent widower, tries to cope with the problems of aging and loneliness -- while beset by an aggressive robo-caller. The tedium and aggravations in his life ...
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August 13, 2019