An Amazing Comedian But Also A Brilliant Film Actor
Robin Williams was a giant. He was highly intelligent, insightful, a master at impersonations, an unequaled expert at improvisation and by far one of the funniest comedians to ever walk the planet. To lose him was terrible for all of us who loved what he did. In fact, when I was feeling down I would try to find a stand up routine or talk show appearance of his to make me laugh and it never failed to cheer me up. But, one area that I found him to be slightly overlooked was in his abilities as an actor. Sure, he won a well- deserved Oscar and ninety percent of the time he appeared on the Late Show or The Tonight Show it was to promote one of his films. However, I think people often became so distracted by all of his hilarious antics as a guest that his excellence in movies was not as recognized. This is in addition to the fact that the half- life of recognizing someone as an Oscar winner is very short as he himself pointed out when he was on Inside The Actor’s Studio. So, I felt compelled to reflect on three roles he played where his incredible cinema acting talent was on full display. I’m certain that others might think of other films than the ones that will be on display, but these were the ones that I remember the most.
Doctor Cozy Carlyle- Dead Again (1991)
Although he only had a few brief scenes in this film his portrayal of a therapist who lost his license for becoming sexually involved with his patients was excellent. You could feel his desperation, regret and remorse over his actions. Doctor Carlyle also plays a fairly pivotal role near the film’s end.
Peter Banning- Hook (1991)
A tale of a grown up Peter Pan was an interesting idea to say the least and who better to play that than Robin Williams. The scene where he screams at his kids for playing too loudly and his overall arrogance as the grown up Peter Banning were gut wrenching. Furthermore, his transformation back into his true self of Peter Pan was an astounding thing to watch.
Mel- Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Although he only had a small role in this as part of one of protagonist Harry Bloc’s (Woody Allen) vignettes he made an already side splitting movie all the more hilarious. He played an actor who appeared to people to be out of focus, which made them nauseous and did so with typical manic hilarity. This would cause me to double over, giggling and still does whenever I recall it. When the director tells him, “Mel your soft. Your out of focus,” and he responds “It’s blurry it’s really blurry,” I still find myself in a fit of laughter.
His Three Best Roles
It may seem not as important now, but Williams’ time, as John Keating was quite a revelation when this picture came out. Here was the man known for being Mork and at times doing very salty comedy, playing an inspiring teacher. His calls for “Carpe Diem” to the boys he taught, his encouragement of Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) to pursue acting against his parents’ wishes and his ability to make poetry excitable to the young men of Welton preparatory school felt extraordinarily real. Furthermore, (Spoiler alters here) the scenes where he breaks down crying alone in the classroom after Neil’s suicide and when he utters, “Thank you boys” at the end of the film when they all pay tribute to him touch, all but the coldest hearts. Dead Poet’s society proved that Robin Williams was a fantastic dramatic actor and there is no way the film would have had such an incredible response if it were not for him being in it.
Dr. Sean Maguire- Good Will Hunting (1997)
He won an Oscar for this movie and rightfully so. In truth, he was so good in it that I believe that every scene he was in would is worth examining. However, I’ll limit myself to only two. As Dr. Sean Maguire he was the one person who could reach out to, understand, and guide the brilliant but very troubled Will Hunting (Matt Damon). In addition, his interpretation of a man mired in grief over the death of his wife was breathtaking. However, by far there were two scenes that stuck out the most to me. You need only to see both of them to witness how exemplary his performance was.
The first comes midway through the film as Sean and Will are in a therapy session. Sean tells Will about how his wife used to fart in her sleep and how one time when doing so she woke herself up. Will starts laughing uncontrollably as does Sean. After this the latter makes a key point when he says something to the effect, “ I loved that about her. That’s what made her my wife. Her idiosyncrasies. People call these things imperfections. They’re not, that’s the good stuff.” The naturalism and ease in this scene along with the profound statement of Sean’s make it amazing to watch. A sweet little footnote to it is that Robin Williams improvised the line about his wife farting and that is why Matt Damon laughs so hard. If you watch closely you can see the camera shake a bit and that was because the cinematographer did not know the joke was coming and was trying to maintain his composure as he shot the scene. (It always makes me wonder how even funnier Robin Williams would have been in person.) Moreover, this is important to the story as it further humanizes Will, makes the viewer like Sean even more and shows the bond that is developing between the math prodigy Will and his court ordered shrink.
The second comes near the end of the film. As Sean and Will are about to complete their last session, Will asks Sean if he has had any personal experience with child abuse. Sean then recounts how when his angry alcoholic father would come home he would provoke him to beat him so that he would not hit his mother or little brother. This leads to Will finally describing in more detail the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his foster father. Then Sean picks up Will’s file shows it to him and says, “ You see this. All of this (expletive). It’s not your fault.” When Will responds casually, “ I know,” Sean keeps saying it until the latter collapses sobbing in Sean’s arms. This moved me tremendously when I first saw it and never fails to today. In one moment, Sean recognizes who Will is as no one before ever has and gives him license to put the dark past behind him.
Robin Williams was an eye opener, as Sean Maguire and the Oscar seemed like the least that could be done in acclaiming him. If you have not seen this you should. He will leave you in awe.
Seymour Parrish- One Hour Photo (2002)
One Hour Photo was not a huge box office hit as far as I know, but was an absolutely brilliant thriller that solidifies the fact that Robin Williams could not only be funny, charming and sensitive in movies, but also quite scary. He plays Seymour (Sy) Parrish a photo tech at a chain store much like Wal-Mart. Sy is an extremely lonely, isolated man who treats his job of developing photographs as if it were an indispensably valuable service to the community. He is also in such longing for a family connection that he becomes dangerously obsessed with the Yorkin family whose photos he processes very often. He hangs copies of their photos in his apartment, pretends to bump into them in places, and even breaks into their home and imagines himself living with them. Sy’s firing from his job for making too many copies of photographs, giving a free camera to the Yorkins son Jakob (Dylan Smith) as well as his discovery (Spoiler alert) that Will is having an affair push him over the edge. This leads to a shocking conclusion where the reasons for and the full extent of Sy’s psychosis is revealed and where the Yorkins lives will be irreparably changed.
Williams’s depiction of a deeply lonesome, withdrawn man at loose ends was so convincing that it was unsettling. When watching it, you feel as if he could snap at any moment and that makes you feel very uncomfortable. Furthermore, when he does snap your heart beats faster until the conflict is resolved and when the movie is over you feel the need for a shower and maybe a Valium. It is a testament to how well he did in One Hour Photo that his portrayal of Sy could evoke such a reaction. Without him, there would be no movie.
Robin Williams will be missed. Robin Williams was irreplaceable. He was a comedic genius and a truly brilliant man whose like we will never see again. He was one of a kind, not just in the world of comedy, which he became known for, but also as an extraordinarily gifted film actor. The movie world is already poorer without him even though he has been gone for only a few months. His legacy lies in his work. This is work that you should see.