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Saturday, 10 December 2016

Retro Movie Review: Jack (1996) #RobinWilliams

Cast: Robin Williams, Bill Cosby, Jennifer Lopez, Diane Lane, Fran Drescher 
Genre: Comedy 
US Box Office Gross: over $58 million 

Trivia: director of Jack Francis Ford Coppola gave Robin Williams camping gear and welcomed him to spend the night in his backyard, as well as $10 dollars to spend in Toys R Us before shooting began

Plot: Jack is a mischievous 10- year- old who acts like any other boy his age. except he is in a grown-up's body

'Not As Awful As I Originally Thought It Would Be, Though Not Great Either' 

Where do I begin?

In 1996, an unlikeliest and strangest cinematic experience occurred: following on from playing a grown-up Peter Pan in Hook in 1991, Robin Williams played an ageing boy in this effort, Jack, 5 years later. One of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, Francis Ford Coppola decided to make a supposed comedy about a premature child, who ages four times faster than other children, inspired by an actual condition called Werner Syndrome (& penned by the writer of the R-rated adult Purge movies, would you believe?).

I've always found this film embarrassing and tedious to watch as a teenager when it originally came out in the mid-1990s. Additionally, it was ripped to shreds by critics and in revisiting it today, I'm actually in two minds about it: Jack is not as outright terrible as I thought it would be. But also, it is still not a favourite Robin Williams film of mine, and I can't help thinking that there were a few things that bothered me about Jack.

Even though the film is supposed to highlight how serious Jack's medical condition is, it seems as though this aspect has been severely underplayed. I couldn't help but cringe and feel a little embarrassed at times, whilst I was sitting through this film. The initial premise sounded interesting - yet odd on paper, but it is one of those movies where more thought should have gone into the actual conception of that idea and the way it is presented on screen. Jack is also a bit of a confused mess that cannot decide whether it ought to be a comedy, as it is initially billed as, or a dramedy. 

But I will say one thing: that the poignant and dramatic moments in this film, were better conceived than the comedic aspects themselves. 

Rather than the humour being funny, it was juvenile in Jack; whereas in Fathers' Day the character Dale did silly and stupid but funny things and said some funny things, as a result of his manic depression, it was amusing to me because that character and his actions weren't out of embarrassment but the manner this all unfolded was entertaining and didn't make me cringe. But also to feel empathy for Dale. In this film, I felt empathy for Jack and what he has to go through but still, the comedy was mostly cringing and bordering on childishness.  

Robin Williams was and is a terrific dramatic and comedic actor, as well as a comedian - but yet with Jack, this is further proof that when it comes to the roles he undertakes, some of his choices are rather baffling. To this day, I still think it's weird he chose to star in a film with a crazy idea as this. His talents and abilities come into conflict with some of the movies he chooses to be a part of. And here with Jack, this film basically took the crazy and funny antics of Robin, only to twist it around and make him look oddball-ish and more of a joke by engaging in some puerile antics. Yet also given his previous outings in Mrs Doubtfire, Aladdin, Hook, Robin does show glimpses here of that emotional quality that he, himself, has in abundance. Other than that, the role he plays doesn't give him much range to work with but to ''act'' like a child. Jack is both a curse and a blessing in disguise for Robin Williams. 

He has been known for being a big kid, as well as a funny guy, whose humour and comedy appealed to a wider generation of fans; and yet in Jack, this film took advantage of that. With that alone, Robin manages to capture that youthfulness and playful side to his character's personality, whilst also grasping the tender nuances of childhood with heartbreaking and occasionally emotional & sentimental accuracy. 

The scene where Jack sleeps with his parents was odd, however. Even if this character is supposed to be suffering from a disease that makes him age older, the way this is played out is just too awkward for me to grasp. The film switches from being mildly amusing in one scene to sentimental in another. 

Directed by, shockingly enough, Francis Ford Coppola who did the legendary, The Godfather, Coppola's mistake here is that his direction should've been a lot more attentive, especially for a dramedy. I sometimes shake my head as to why he signed up for this, besides trying to raise awareness of Werner Syndrome, despite this film's reluctance to highlight this plight further. As serious and thought-provoking as he attempts to approach this dramedy, through Robin's strange portrayal of the title character, it still comes off as looking weird at times. 

Degenerating into needless fart gags, the film takes a downward turn. Although it finally redeems itself during the last 10 mins, and I sort of like the message about not letting your differences get in the way of your happiness. That and the idea of being the one kid in school nobody wants to be friends with because he is different and Jack is having to prove to himself that he is a special person, who has a lot to offer to the world. That message was something I liked as well, as well as a valuable lesson to be learned. 

But the biggest low point reserved for this movie was when Robin Williams's Jack as a man-boy/boy-man, a supposedly young child kisses the teacher played by Jennifer Lopez. After watching that scene, it made me gag. Yes, I know for a fact that pupils have crushes on their school teachers and such - yet the movie took this idea a little too far. The handling of Jack's relationships with his mother, his teacher and his best friend's mother is middling at most; though from a romantic and sexual aspect, it comes across as too awkward, leftfield and nutty to comprehend to the point that they become cringing and problematic. Especially as this is a G-rated flick in itself. Astonishingly, Jack is played straight as a serious drama, even though it is supposed to be a comedy, but Coppola can't do comedy, never mind register as a Coppola movie itself.

The rest of the cast of Bill Cosby, Diane Lane and Jennifer Lopez are not bad in their roles, as they give okay performances. Whereas I preferred Fran Drescher in The Nanny over her role as the mother of one of the kids in this film. 

Jack is like the Tom Hanks movie, Big - only slightly more futile and awkward in its approach and stripping away the wit and meaning that the latter has in abundance. It's not outright terrible, rather I just wished it could use a bit more work, as well as make it less silly and with fewer WTH moments. 

Still, had it not been for the emotional restraint the film opts for, in certain places, Jack would be even sillier and over-the-top - which it needn't be. 


Pros +

- Robin Williams's emotional qualities are well played out, & he did better with the serious moments than the comedic scenes

- Film does have 1 or 2 heartwarming moments

- Final scenes were nicely done 

- Message about looking past people's appearances and accepting them for who they are were both good 


- The lack of attention given to Werner Syndrome and not more was done to highlight it

- Cringe-inducing, a little juvenile and awkward moments in places

- Francis Ford Coppola's direction needed more work

- The kiss between Jack and his teacher played by J-Lo was beyond strange 

Final Verdict:

In rewatching this film today, I was hoping for the worse and that my views on it would not change from years ago: strangely enough, Jack is actually not as bad as I thought it would be when I last saw it as a teenager; even by suspending one's disbelief, the writer and Coppola's direction is restrained, insofar as the comedy is concerned for Robin. I actually preferred Robin Williams during the dramatic and poignant scenes, more so than during the comedic scenes: I felt for his character and emphasised with his plight. 

The film would have made a lot more sense if the plotline was about Jack, who as an adult, still has the mindset of a 10-year-old and thinks and acts like a 10-year-old, instead of having this character aged 10 & he looks 40+. But the emotional and dramatic elements, in the context of the strange plot, is efficiently well done; particularly during scenes where we see Jack's different feelings and emotions unravel, whilst the humour either doesn't work very well, or it is at times cringing. 

Additionally, I wanted to see a bit more of Bill Cosby, Diane Lane and Jennifer Lopez, of whom did okay, and yet they were underutilised in this film. 

Also, the message and details regarding Werner Syndrome is lost and isn't touched upon as properly as it should've. Much like with Robin Williams' Hook of 1991, it is about a boy who never grew up, but did, but yet so unlike that film, has none of its charms and flair and instead, this turns out to be an awkward experience for pretty much everyone involved. 

Although the final scenes were nicely done and very touching. 

Despite this, whilst Jack isn't and by any means one of Robin Williams's best films, nor be it one of my favourite performances of his, not forgetting if one can get by the weird premise & silly scenes, it's still worth giving it a chance. Especially if you are a huge Robin Williams fan.


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