Friday, July 10, 2015

Robin Williams

Below is the preview of what may be the last movie made by the actor Robin Williams, who died last summer.

The trailer implies that Nolan Mack, the Williams character, bravely makes a big change in his life at the age of 60, but a review by New York Times film critic Stephen Holden suggests the film does not play out this way.

The final paragraph of the review is this:

      "As truthful as it is, 'Boulevard' conveys little insight into characters who are 
      believable and well acted but incapable of change.  The movie is an unreliev-
      edly depressing illustration of Henry David Thoreau's observation that 'the mass
      of men lead lives of quiet desperation.'"

Perhaps this is more true to the facts of Williams' life than the associations most people have of him based on the performances that made up his career.


Williams starred in early school performances and was a standout drama student at the Juilliard School in New York.  

His first big hit was the "Mork and Mindy" television show that ran from 1978 to 1982, in which Williams played an alien with such energy and wacky humor that he made his name for these qualities.

He was an unusually gifted stand-up comedian and film actor.  If you never saw one of Williams' manic monologues, you could do worse than to watch the video below.  It is from one of his 50 appearances on Letterman's The Late Show, this time to promote "Mrs. Doubtfire,"  one of his most popular movies.  

Williams acted in more than 20 films.  The ones that sold the most tickets typically cast him as someone with a big heart who empathized with other people. Think Doubtfire, (1993, $404 million gross); "Dead Poets' Society," (1989, $236 million); and "Good Morning, Vietnam," (1987, $124 milliion).

One of these, the very middlebrow "Good Will Hunting" (1998, $225 million) won Williams a supporting actor Oscar.  Another, "Patch Adams"  (1998, $202 million), was so treacly that critic Roger Ebert said it "made me want to spray the screen with Lysol."

Williams played edgier parts in at least two films, but they did not generate the box office of his comedic efforts.

      -- In "One Hour Photo" (2002, $52 million), a psychological thriller, Williams played a 
      camera store worker who becomes obsessed with a family whose snapshots he                   processes.             

      --"Insomnia" (2002, $114 million) featured Williams as a murderer being stalked 
      by Al Pacino, a police detective with his own complicated backstory.

Both movies were very well reviewed, but apparently not appealing to Robin Williams' traditional audience.

The Downside of Enthusiasm

We all have met zesty, animated people who throw themselves wholeheartedly into making other people happy. It is wonderful to be around these people, but the ones I have known have paid a price.  This kind of charm takes huge psychic effort, and these effervescent people require lots of compensatory personal space. If they do not protect themselves, they run out of gas.  

This seems to have been the case with Robin Williams.  Early in his career, he distracted himself with alcohol and cocaine.   Later came two expensive divorces.   Successful as he was financially and professionally, he had financial worries. Restless and anxious, he also was depressed about a recent Parkinson's diagnosis.

In August last year, he strapped a nylon belt around his neck, hung himself from a closet door frame, and died of asphyxiation.  

The New Movie

"Boulevard" is opening today in a few theaters in artsy neighborhoods of New York and Los Angeles.  My bet is that Williams' acting here, however true it is to his own psychological challenges, will not be long remembered.  

If Robin Williams were still alive, he probably would repeat a quote from a Woody Allen movie.  In it, Allen as usual plays a filmmaker;  He meets one of his fans who says this:

     ". . . . We love all your work.  My wife has seen all your movies . . . . 
     I especially like your early, funny ones."

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