Everybody loves the touching films Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. Most everybody loves the irreverent Mrs. Doubtfire, and heck, even a few people go ape-shit for some Jumanji and What Dreams May Come. Over the past 35 years, Robin Williams has appeared in about 80 films, some arguably good and some arguably bad. And shit, let’s face it, when you are in that many movies, it’s inevitable that there will always be a few that slip through the cracks.
As you already know, Williams was found dead on August 11, 2014 from an apparent suicide. It seems like behind every great artist, there is almost always a tormented soul. I was shocked and saddened when I learned this news, and since I have never personally met him, the only experiences I have shared with Williams over the years were in the cinema. Of course, I’ve seen all of the movies mentioned above, but Williams has been in many, many great films. So in today’s article, we are going to talk about some of my favorite Robin Williams movies, that you might not have seen. Enjoy.
Awakenings – 1990
When I was a young kid, I was absolutely obsessed with Robert De Niro. If De Niro was in the movie, I wanted to see that shit. In Awakenings, Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro) is a man who’s been in a state of catatonia for nearly 40 years, after suffering from encephalitis as a small boy. The film picks up in 1969 at the NYC sanitarium that currently houses Lowe, and we are introduced to Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams), a dedicated and caring physician who was just recently employed by the hospital. Dr. Sayer is the first one to notice that a few other patients in the hospital share similar symptoms with Lowe. After researching new treatment techniques for the unrelated but similar Parkinson’s disease, he convinces the hospital board to allow him to apply similar treatment to Lowe, after his mother gives her consent, and after several trial runs, miraculously Leonard is “awakened”.
As I previously mentioned, I originally wanted to see this movie because Robert De Niro is the fucking man, but I honestly came away more impressed with Robin Williams performance, and for maybe the first time in my life seeing him play a character so caring and empathetic. Dr. Malcolm Sayer and Leonard Lowe make an odd pair, a shy doctor who prefers the company of books to people (Sayer), and a man in a coma for 40 years (Lowe), but they quickly become close friends in this movie, and the relationship they share is heartwarming and totally believable. Awakenings is an awesome movie (also based on a true story, so that always ups the ante), and definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.
Insomnia – 2002
Insomnia was directed by Christopher Nolan, right after his masterpiece Memento, but right before Batman Begins, which launched him into the “mega-director Christopher Nolan” that you know today. Because this film dropped before he was a super-famous director, it certainly has been able to fly under the radar.
The film takes place in a remote Alaskan town, and follows Will Dormer’s (Al Pacino) attempts at tracking down the murder of a young girl, who in turn is played by Robin Williams. Walter Finch (Robin Williams) is quite chilling in this movie, but it’s his quiet contemplation and indifference to the murder, that makes him so frightening. Williams typically doesn’t play this type of character, and I feel he pulled it off excellently. Pacino as always walks around rubbing his face and cackling like he does, so there’s nothing new there, but this movie is worth watching alone, just for Williams. The film probably would have been better if it had more of him in it.
One Hour Photo – 2002
One Hour Photo tells the story of lonely photo-technician Seymour “Sy” Parrish (Robin Williams), who lives alone and leads a boring life, dedicated only to making sure that his customers get the best quality photos possible. The Yorkin family is perhaps his favorite customer, as they have been going to the SavMart One Hour Photo for years, and Sy has lived vicariously through their pictures, envying their happiness and affluence. He awkwardly makes several attempts to connect with the family during their visits, but is unsuccessful.
Sy begins keeping copies of the films negatives, and starts a (psychotic) collage in his apartment of the Yorkins, and imagines himself being welcomed happily into their family. A couple of events then turn the story into complete chaos, as Sy discovers that husband Will Yorkin is having an affair while developing the mistresses’ pictures, and he is also fired after his boss finds that an inexplicable amount of extra prints have been made. These events push Sy to the edge, and much like in Insomnia, Williams shows us that not only can he play “funny” and “serious”, he can also play downright fucking creepy.
The Birdcage – 1996
Armand Goldman (Robin Williams) is the owner of a popular drag club in Miami beach, and his long-time lover/wife Albert (played by a hilarious Nathan Lane) is the star of his drag shows, appearing as “Starina.” Life is good for the two, until Armand’s son Val (whom was conceived as the result of Armand’s one and only fling with a straight woman) arrives to tell his father(s) that he is getting married. What should be a joyous event is made more complicated, as Val’s fiancee’s parents are both staunchly conservative Republicans, who are in the midst of a dirty sex scandal, and do not want to take any risks in sabotaging any future campaign plans. So Armand and Albert (with Albert dressed and acting like a woman) must pretend to be a “traditional” straight married parent’s of Val, to get the approval of his fiancee’s family before they can wed.
On some levels the movie bothers me, as Val shouldn’t give a shit what other people think about his gay father, who is obviously happy and loves his life, but at the same time the movie brings into question “family values” and explores human relationships. Near the end, both families realize that they are not all different. Williams and Lane make a great comedy team in the film, and it’s always good for a few laughs. This movie is also currently streaming on Netflix Instant.
Death To Smoochy – 2002
This one is kind of hit or miss, and tells the story of Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams), a popular children’s show host, who is disgraced off the air by an FBI sting that finds he was making deals with parents who want their kids on the show. He is quickly replaced by a squeaky clean Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) and his character “Smoochy the Rhino”. Randolph finds himself scorned, without a job, and homeless, and plots on revenge of Smoochy the Rhino, and dreams of a return to the spotlight. It’s soon explained that the television show and all of the live events are controlled by a crooked charity, and when Mopes plans a charity event in which half of the proceeds will go to a drug rehab clinic in which he used to volunteer, they feel he’s gone too far and plot to kill him. Randolph breaks into Sheldon Mopes home and threatens to kill him, but after the two talk, Mopes realizes that Randolph is genuinely depressed simply because he misses entertaining the children, and the two essentially bury the hatchet. The charity show goes on, and before the hit can happen, Randolph successfully thwarts the murder, and the two go on to star in a children’s show together.
2002 was a weird year for Williams, as he played a lot of people that were generally out of character for him, but it’s quite impressive that he played each unique role believably. Death To Smoochy definitely isn’t my favorite movie, but it’s strange and unusual, and worth a view if you haven’t already seen it.
What was your favorite Robin Williams movie, and what was your least favorite? Let me know in the comments!