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Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Robin Williams Movie Retrospective Decades: The 2000s & Beyond (Final Part)

By Waiching Liu

'Sadly, What Goes Up, Must Come Down'

They say that winning an Oscar is the curse for an actor's career - and this sentiment couldn't be any more true for Robin Williams; after a steady progression throughout the 1980s as he embarked on a major Hollywood movie career, he broke the mould a decade later and with that, he had secured some of the biggest box office successes of the 1990s in Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Hook, Jumanji and Aladdin. Not to mention his first Oscar triumph. 

Fast forward a decade later and the 2000s and beyond was a funny period wherein Robin he began to draw attraction towards serious and even abrasive, unconventional and less typecast roles, whilst at the same time, the further his career went on, the quality of those films began to sank further. 

His comeback in 2002 opened up in impressive fashion, however, in the highly- acclaimed Christopher Nolan- helmed Insomnia, based on the 1997 Norwegian original, & the first of two psychological thriller films of this year, saw Williams in the role of a writer named Walter Finch, who is not all he seems and who intends to play mind games with a cop, played by Al Pacino, in a quiet Alaskan suburb. The second was in One Hour Photo as an emotionally disturbed lab photo technician, who develops an unhealthy obsession towards a family for whom he has developed photos for. Alongside Death To Smoochy, these films were the antithesis to Robin Williams's former care-free roles and movies & ones that attempted to showcase a different side to Williams, as a character actor, that fans and audiences hadn't witnessed before. These have been met with optimism by many film lovers, who preferred Robin Williams doing against-type roles and antagonist, baddie roles because they enjoy him as those characters. On the other hand, his decisions and choices to go down this route have been also met with doubt and criticism.... because in some cases, Robin just cannot completely play villains, straight up & convincingly too without being so Robin Williams-like. It is because of this, along with the poor film choices, this became a problem that plagued him during the last decade of his career when he deliberately went down this path to show his range and worth as an actor; something that he already succeeded with, in Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting, but also to branch out and diversify his talents. I enjoy Robin Williams playing serious and straight roles, but I also enjoy him as a funnyman too...but when he plays outright villain characters, it's a different story that it doesn't always wash with me. 

I am not going to deny that the 2000s and beyond, but for Insomnia, One Hour Photo and perhaps also House of D, has been an indifferent one for Robin Williams. So to speak - but with all that being said, it was a period in which it felt like to me that Hollywood had given up on Robin....and Robin had slowly, but surely given up on himself. Speaking as a longtime fan, it was actually a painful realisation and bitter pill to swallow. It was painful to see him star and appear in films, which were mostly so bad (and for me, these were a lot worse than some of the so-called bad films he churned out in the previous 2 decades of his formative years), and yet also were so disappointing. I'm not here to diss or discredit Robin or to taint his legacy, but the honest truth is, I've never loved a Robin Williams film from the 2000s to 2010, and even beyond that. I might have enjoyed one or two of his films for other reasons, in One Hour Photo and Insomnia, but it is not a coincidence for me to say that his other work just wasn't as good or nearly as good and they didn't live up to the excellence, nor have any of that magic that emerged in the likes of Good Morning, Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Hook, Jumanji to name. Not just for the fact that the movies from the 2000s have been rather dismal, particularly by his usual standards, but in watching a then - 50+-year-old Robin Williams and his turns, it feels like his heart is and was just not really into it; that he probably only did it for the money, which pains me to say it (yet, if that wasn't the case, then how come Robin wasn't in more bankable, but also far better films?). That, and it is why I rarely bring up and discuss his post-1980s and 1990s work. So where did it go wrong? 

It began with Death To Smoochy, which is Williams's equivalent to Eddie Murphy's loathsome, Norbit; though not as horrific per se, this was Robin Williams's Norbit and it was still, a discomforting watch at times, as Williams not so much sends himself up; rather, he goes into full tirade mode as his character: a washed-up, potty-mouthed and cynical kids presenter, Randolph Smiley who tries to get his vengeance on an actor who stole his job. Penned by Danny DeVito, the comedy, whilst, somewhat amusing, was pretty mean-spirited in nature and it just wasn't feel-good. The film also came on the back of Insomnia and One Hour Photo. Though Death to Smoochy has become a cult hit in recent years, it was a critical and commercial flop during its release in 2002. 

Robin Williams's movie career, as successful as it was, has been fluctuating and it had gone through various stages - and yet if the 1980s was the experimental period whereby he'd been in less successful offerings, only to break out with spearheading turns in Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society in the tail end of the 1980s and the 1990s had all but cemented his superstar and global status as a Hollywood star through Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, then, unfortunately, it all imploded in the 2000s as right after Insomnia, One Hour Photo, most of his follow-up efforts have been largely forgettable, with some languishing as bargain bin, direct-to-DVD fodder. Even more worryingly and lamentably, Williams's comedy-based movies got worse and were even more forgettable in contrast to Mrs Doubtfire, The Birdcage, Good Morning, Vietnam, which, over the years, have all become memorable comedy classics. From the tired and calamitous Old Dogs alongside John Travolta, which somehow amassed over $95 million worldwide, Robots and RV to A Merry Friggin' Christmas and Licence to Wed, it was turd after turd with humour that was practically not as funny & enjoyable, personally speaking. Excluding the Night At The Museum sequels, he never had one outright popular comedy movie hit - and his dramas weren't for the best either, with the cringe-inducing, dullard affair that is August Rush. Whilst fellow comedian Will Ferrell's career was beginning to soar, Robin Williams's began to slump.

With Robin getting older, but for a supporting role in the Night At The Museum sequels, big-budget movie offerings became a thing of the past. He just wasn't getting those big- name, multi-million Hollywood films that he used to notch up in the 1990s consistently, any more and it was sufficed to say, sad to see. With younger actors in their 20s and early 30s snagging all the best and bigger roles, Robin mostly had to make do with Z-movie efforts and leftover scraps, which didn't do his talents any favours. According to Box Office Mojo, in terms of box office gross, out of the 51 movies he has starred and appeared in, 7 of the lowest-grossing films that generated less than $1 million came from the 2000s & post-2000s. These included The Final Cut with a measly worldwide gross of $551,000 +, House of D, The Face of Love, the much-maligned World's Greatest Dad & the posthumous Boulevard. Although the latter got a limited theatrical release.  

Source: Box Office Mojo 

At the time of his unfortunate death in 2014, Williams had completed and appeared in 4 movies, which at the time were yet to be released theatrically: Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb, A Merry Friggin' Christmas, Boulevard, which is cited as Robin's penultimate film, and Absolutely Anything and they have since been sent to DVD and the latter got released in cinemas in the UK, a year later in 2015. 

I hate to sound pessimistic, & my apologies if I come across that way, but being the 2000s and 2010s were the last active periods for Robin Williams and his output, it is with regret to say, especially as a fan of Robin's, that most of it just wasn't enjoyable for me personally. The quality that I've come to expect in a Robin Williams film, the level of storytelling, the quality of performances from him, the humour and in the characters he played & the charm that they evoke, just never truly materialised - and it is because of that most of his movie work during 2000-2014, has been wholly forgettable. 

I am also bewildered in astonishment that Night At The Museum became Robin Williams's most successful movie ahead of Mrs Doubtfire, -given that he is not the lead role and his character is not prominent as most of the others he has played before it. 

Having said that, up until his death, it was good to see him when he was alive. It just makes me long to see, or be it wished that Robin Williams had a longer and far more consistent film career - yet had that success came so earlier on for him during the early stages of his career, as a movie actor in the 1980s and he'd sustained that high level all the way through to the 1990s and into the 2000s, I guess that would have been a completely different story, and perhaps a much happier one also. 

It's kind of funny that Robin Williams back then with Insomnia, One Hour Photo, he was to play against type and go against people's expectations by taking on darker roles, but also films that were kind of low-key and experimental.... because he did the exact same thing in the early 1980s when he was in his '30s, before he blew up with the success of Good Morning, Vietnam at a time with Seize The Day, The Best of Times, The Survivors to name. Yet the key difference here is that in the 2000s, given the reputation he'd built up and sought & the success that he had in the 1990s, people and critics were longing for, as well as they expected more of the hits and commercial offerings from Robin. But, alas, he just didn't get them and the movies that he did make, but for Night At The Museum, & put out, were not very memorable. Or good. Considering that Robin had been sober for 20 years that he fell off the wagon and sought treatment for alcoholism in the 2000s, coupled with a string of movie flops & poor movie choices with several of his films not doing so well, it was not a particularly great decade for him and his fans. 

When movie fans, especially us Robin Williams fans look back on his career as a whole, I think, and I am not speaking on behalf of them, but for myself when I say that the legacy that he'd built up, for what he has achieved in his film and TV careers, a lot of what happened in the 1970s -1990s - and less so for the post-2000s, despite One Hour Photo & Insomnia, is what we, the fans and most of the public, will remember Robin for. He gave us a lot of great memories back then, but after that, as he got older, it just felt to me like, rather than his best years were ahead of him, his best years were, in fact, clearly over. 
His best-loved & most cherished roles came from movies such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Mrs Doubtfire, Aladdin, Hook, Good Will Hunting - movies from two, three decades ago when Robin Williams was one of the most sought -after & marketable stars of the 1980s and 1990s, and there were not many of those like it in the 2000s & 2010s, sadly. 

Henceforth, the earlier stages of Robin Williams's film legacy, through the 1980s and 1990s, along with his Mork & Mindy TV show, will invariably live in on memory, far more so than his latter work. 

Notable Favourites:  Insomnia, One Hour Photo, House of D

Notable Non-Favourites:  Pretty much everything else after Insomnia and One Hour Photo & in-between House of D

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