Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP: Robin McLaurin Williams


This short review of Good Morning, Vietnam was the second piece of journalism of mine ever published. It appeared in the March 4, 1988, issue of The Panther Press, our student newspaper at Strath Haven High School.

It's not very deep or insightful. More of a capsule than a piece of criticism.1

But of course I thought of it today. My only ephemeral connection to Robin Williams that came to mind.

This might be a little simplistic, like my review 26½ years ago, but in the remembrances and tributes that are spilling out tonight,2 it seems there are two primary types of Robin Williams movie fans. There are those who grew up with his family-friendly comedies, have them memorized and hold them dear. And there are those who are ardent admirers of his dramatic turns.

I'm in the second group. Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire will deservedly live forever. But I hope future generations come across Awakenings, The Fisher King, One Hour Photo and, of course, Good Morning, Vietnam, and realize the man was a hell of an actor.3

Since the February death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I've found myself browsing through YouTube to revisit his finest moments. One I kept coming back to, improbably, was this one from Patch Adams.

It's a breathtaking example of an actor who is supposed to be a secondary heel stealing a scene from the star.

Robin Williams absolutely holds his own, though. He had the dramatic chops to go toe-to-toe with anyone, including the likes of Hoffman and De Niro and Hackman and Pacino. (Even when the script didn't give him as much ammo to work with as the other actor in the scene, as is the case in the above clip.)

Now that clip becomes even more poignant. Two Oscar-winning masters of their craft. Both gone way too soon.

1. I learned much about movie criticism from Roger Ebert, and I always loved his four-star review of Good Morning, Vietnam. Here's an excerpt of the insight he brought:
"What is inspired about 'Good Morning, Vietnam,' which contains far and away the best work Williams has ever done in a movie, is that his own tactics are turned against him. The director, Barry Levinson, has created a character who is a stand-up comic — he’s a fast-talking disc jockey on Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War, directing a nonstop monologue at the microphone. ... But while he’s assaulting the microphone, Levinson is doing something fairly subtle in the movie around him. He has populated 'Good Morning, Vietnam' with a lot of character actors who are fairly complicated types, recognizably human, and with the aid of the script they set a trap for Williams. His character is edged into a corner where he must have human emotions, or die."
2. If you can have a "favorite" tweet when someone dies, a macabre concept if ever there was one, mine was this one. Hold on to that smile.

3. Williams also shines in What Dreams May Come, but the movie doesn't quite work for me. As beautiful as it looks on the screen, it's just too relentlessly dark and depressing to be enjoyable. Not Williams' fault, though.

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