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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Retro Movie Review: Seize The Day (1986) #RobinWilliams

Seize The Day
Cast: Robin Williams, Jerry Stiller, Joseph Wiseman, Gleanne Headley
Genre: Drama

Trivia: the proverb 'Carpe diem' which is Latin for Seize The Day was uttered by Williams' John Keating in 1989's Dead Poets Society

Plot: An honest, hard-working guy has lost his job, his girlfriend and left part of his sanity behind as he heads to New York to pick up the pieces of his life


'A Valiant Dramatic Performance By Robin Williams In A Mundane Movie'

I originally posted a review of this film back last year, but I urged myself to revisit it again, in light of my disappointments of Robin Williams' latter work during the 2000s and post 2000s after viewing each of them and that I was in the mood to rewatch an early movie of his to remind myself of the earlier years of Robin's career whereby I enjoyed watching his former films. And so I chose Seize The Day and to give it another bash. 

This is a revised review from last year and thus forth, the review score has changed slightly.

Seize The Day was Robin Williams's third attempt at dramatic acting, after The World According to Garp and Moscow on the Hudson, but his first real attempt at playing it straight, with a straight face, as well as smiling less. Based on the novel by Saul Bellow, the story here is similar to the one in Death of a Salesman with John Malkovich and Dustin Hoffman and gives Robin the opportunity to showcase more of his dramatic acting abilities (especially towards viewers who'd thought that The World According to Garp was a one-off exception). 

It was Williams's presence and the fact that he starred in this movie that got me interested in knowing this film. As a Robin Williams fan, who'd never seen it before until 2 years later, I wanted to find out what it was like. I was curious, and even if he does well with the material he was given- as dreary and depressing as it was-, he deserved better movies.

Set in 1957, the story is unquestionably sad - Williams plays Tommy Wilhelm: a struggling salesman who loses his job and with that, his life starts to crumble, his wife/girlfriend, Olive loses faith in him, and still he goes out of his way to make amends. Tommy's strict and horrible father chooses to mock his son, rather than emotionally support him as Tommy tries to win over his love and compassion - only for his dad to throw it back in his face. Tommy also has to pay alimony to his ex-wife, even though she refuses to grant him a divorce and his girlfriend grows increasingly restless. 

As I tried to get into the movie, it was far from engrossing, but there were parts with Robin in them that were fully watchable; Robin's performance is actually rather good; powerful & impressive even in places, as he displays different emotions and expressions and it was our first real glimpse of him as a serious actor & without the comical buffoonery we have long tended to associate him with, but his character Tommy is angsty, moody and always had that serious and depressed look on his face. 

This is a Robin Williams movie, tailor-made specifically for non-Robin Williams fans: the very people who aren't keen on his over -the- top wackiness and fun side, who prefer to see him take on more serious roles. And not a typical Robin-like performance either. But this serious role, as good as he gives it 110% in terms of effort here, is seriously hampered by a dreary plot and narrative and made-for-TV production values. The image/video quality of this movie, given this, came out in 1986 is exceedingly poor and is truly one of the worst I have witnessed. Especially given there have been many other movies released that year that looked vastly superior to this. Even The Best of Times and Club Paradise - Robin's other movies released that yearlooked slightly better. If this had been made in the mid to late '70s, that would have been understandable. But here, that is just almost inexcusable. 

The story is poor, not very engaging and is dreary. The film consists of scenes of Robin's character Tommy Wilhelm depressed, downtrodden, smoking cigarettes & uttering bland dialogue, so bland and with the movie being so bland, it would put one to sleep. It made me fall asleep several times it lacked atmosphere. And it was depressing to boot as well. All along, I was hoping for something exciting, interesting, fun or amusing to happen, but it never happened as much as I tried to follow the story. The film just didn't seem to go anywhere at all, lacking in dimension and the story itself was also difficult to follow and ended on a bizarre note. & yet had Fielder Cook made more of an effort to bring it to life & inject more passion and zest, this would have further salvaged the movie. Tommy's wife is a horrible person, however. 

It's far from being as good as Good Morning, Vietnam, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, and yet and but for One Hour Photo, Insomnia, compared to the dross he pumped out in the 2000s after those movies came out, his turn as Tommy in Seize The Day is utterly convincing & imposing. It's not exactly restrained, but he clearly showed that despite the immeasurably tepid material, Robin Williams does his best to rise above it and he was and is more than virtually capable of being a talented dramatic actor, without resorting to his improv gags and going into one of his goofy & comedic turns. With this movie, despite the poor production values, Robin was the difference in Seize The Day saddling in-between watchable and unwatchable, and here, he acquits himself strongly - & watchable this was at times & he certainly was on an emotional roller coaster ride of emotions. 

I know some will say it helps if you read the book: but with a talent such as Robin in this film, one would expect it to be that good. But it is not. One needn't need to have read the book to watch this movie and decide for themselves whether or not s/he truly enjoyed it. Robin Williams has starred and appeared in movies throughout his career that not many people have heard of, and whilst this one falls into that bracket, it is also not one you will find on many Robin Williams's fans lists of favourite movies. That & it's one that should have been far more insightful and with a far less bleak story. 

Even more strangely, Seize The Day has been labelled as a dark comedy, which surely must be a mistake - ultimately, there was rarely anything amusing about it, as Robin Williams played it straight in his performance and one that is too often overlooked. 

In my review of Dead Poets Society, I mentioned that that film and Seize The Day are the two most boring films of his that I have seen - although Williams performance as English professor, John Keating fares a tad better, Tommy Wilhelm comes close. With the latter, it's not completely boring, but the story needed to be way more inviting, even if Williams gives it his all. 


Pros +

- Robin Williams's performance is extremely good  

- Is occasionally watchable in places when Robin is onscreen

- Way better than many of Robin Williams's movies that came after Insomnia and One Hour Photo in the 2000s

Cons -

- Awful production values and atrocious picture quality for a film that was made in 1986 

- Robin's character is too sad

- Depressing film to boot 

- Direction is too slow & lacks passion

Final Verdict:

This surreal look at usually funny Robin Williams trying out his acting chops by taking on a more dramatic and yet angsty role is sadly not a very memorable one. This is a very plodding, slow-paced movie lacking in excitement and interesting scenes and is frankly depressing and mundane throughout that is only marginally watchable, due to Williams's portrayal of Tommy Wilhelm. Thankfully, he has gone on to obtain much better dramatic movie roles than this one after Seize The Day.

The low rating I'm awarding to this film is not because I was expecting a comedy: why would I? In fact, I was expecting this to be as interesting as The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, Awakenings as a drama - but it's not. Fielder Cook's direction is too cold, too bland and one dimensional with nowhere left to go. 

As effortlessly good as Robin's acting efforts were, the direction here needed a lot more work.

Seize The Day is perhaps worth seeing only once - because it is a difficult film to sit through and unless you are familiar with or have read the book and you truly loved this movie, it is a tricky one to recommend for general audiences, as well as to many Robin Williams fans. Particularly to those who are more used to his familiar efforts in Good Morning, Vietnam, Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. 


*score last updated: 23 October 2017*

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