At The Movies With Javid #09


You couldn’t expect me to do a Robin Williams edition with only 3 movies could you? The guy did more films than Whitney Houston did crack – so now it’s time for Part 2!

The Birdcage (1996)

My appreciation for Nathan Lane’s acting abilities came much later than my love of Williams, but I now enjoy his talents almost, if not just as much. Combining the two of them is a brilliant move to save a film that borders on the offensive (or at least, it would be these days).
In a way it’s ironic to see Williams play the ‘straight man’ of the duo as a gay couple. Instead of being the scene-stealing, flamboyant crazy man, that is left to Lane who delivers in spades while Williams remains quite reserved. Don’t get me wrong though there are scenes where you can almost sense the two of them just riffing off each other. It’s a great dynamic between the two.

What shits me is the story. I know it’s based on some old French screenplay or something but in today’s world it just seems incredibly out of touch. Williams’ son (through a drunken one-night stand with a friend), is recently engaged to a senator’s daughter – and wouldn’t you know it, he’s a conservative (surprise surprise).

Anyway, for the sake of love, sonny boy pleads with Dad to hide everything about the seemingly successful identity he’s built for himself as a Florida drag bar owner. His son pleads with him to not act gay, removes practically all the furniture from the house and, worst of all, send Nathan Lane away. Worst of all, instead of telling his son to ‘get fucked’, he actually does it. Oh, on top of being gay, he’s also Jewish! And wouldn’t you know it, sonny boy wants to hide that from everyone, too!

What follows are some classic comedy situations around lying, Lane doing almost as good a job as Williams in Mrs Doubtfire dressed as a woman, and the inevitable scene where it all falls apart. The final scene, where Gene Hackman escapes the press by letting Lane and Williams dress him up in drag will give you an inverted micro-penis.

There are some good performances in this film, and it’s undoubtedly aiming for some nice morals about being true to yourself, everyone facing different pressures that challenge our ability to be true to ourselves and of course the embracement of homosexual culture (which was certainly not as prevalent in 1996), but it misses the mark. Perhaps the only reason it does so is to give Williams and Lane more screen time, but the compromise only somewhat pays off. 6.5/10

Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

Pretty much the seminal Robin Williams performance, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve watched this movie.

During high school, and even after, many people I know have gone into the field of teaching. While I could ask questions about the decreasing marks required for qualification and the fact that many new teachers are dropping out of the profession as quickly as they’re signing up, instead I’m going to say that it was solely because of Williams’ performance in this film.

The students themselves give some pretty good performances too. That phone scene in the assembly is a classic, as much as the ass-paddling scene that directly follows is.

While there are the classic Williams moments, where you join the class in hanging onto his every word, nuance and voice, there’s also a lot of heart. Parental issues, stifling creativity, individuality in the face of conformity, it gives you a perspective on growing up, whether you’re watching it in High School or even now, when the process is on its way as a 29 year old. Maybe the boy’s school thing gives the growing up side more meaning to young men, but this movie stays with you.

With the inevitable tragedy of a suicide at the end, and the final scene with ‘Oh Captain, my captain’ to a Williams who’ll never be seen again, given the events surrounding his death and the mass outpouring of grief in the aftermath, it’s all just that little more poignant. It just goes to show that, even when you do walk your own path, it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. 9/10

Death To Smoochy (2002)

This is a much lesser-known film in the grand scheme of things, but another classic Williams performance. While some of his roles certainly have an element of blackness, there is something delightfully unique in his portrayal of Rainbow Randolph, beloved kids entertainer who brings smiles to millions while having a much darker, corruptible side. Sound like anyone?

Sadly the world catches wind of Randy’s foul-mouthed, bribe-taking antics and he falls from grace, losing his honour, timeslot and audience to a pansy, methadone clinic-playing rhino named Smoochy – played excellently by Edward Norton.

What follows is a hilarious black comedy as Randolph tries a multitude of means to ensure Smoochy’s fall from grace, which finally succeeds after tricking the Rhino into playing at a Neo-Nazi rally (HEIL SMOOCHY!) and sneaking cock-shaped biscuits into a live taping to be used on air.

Norton is great, and the other cast members including Danny DeVito, John Stewart and Harvey Fierstein and many more all put in solid performances. Even in a case where he’s not the main protagonist, Williams steals the show.

His character is a psychopath, a torn menagerie of love and comedy and happiness on one side and hate, madness and vengeance on the other, and he flips between the two like a madman.

It’s just another one of those performances that, given recent events, really makes you see it in a different light. There’s such an apparent ease and honesty in the performance of a character who defines their own happiness through that which they bring others.

Thankfully, unlike Dead Poets, this film has a happy ending, where Randolph finally redeems himself and is allowed back into the world he so loved. Honestly, given some of his antics and the fact that they seem very easily attributable to him, you have to wonder how he was never, ONCE, in the WHOLE MOVIE, arrested. It was like he would commit a heinous act, everyone would know it was him and then he’s still walking around in public in the very next scene, like some crazy ‘Wile E Coyote’ character who keeps coming back after incidents that will normally hospitalise someone.

Still, if you can look past that small flaw in the telling, what you have is a highly enjoyable story, with some great performances and a lot of fun. You’ll probably either love this movie or hate it. Thankfully for me, I landed in the first category. 9/10


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