Thursday, August 14, 2014

What is my favorite Robin Williams film? The World According to Garp.

Garp 6Robin Williams starred in some really good films over the years, offering up some wonderful performances.   But he also starred in many middle of the road films, and had his share of clunkers as well.

But even watching a movie like RV, I always felt that Williams gave it a 100 per cent effort regardless of the material he was working with.  Sometimes he was able to rise above it, sometimes not.

I’ve been asked several times over the past few days what my favorite Robin Williams film is and after considering all of his films that I have enjoyed, I always came back to the one I still find the most fascinating.  That would be The World According to Garp. 

I don't know why but this film often seems to be overlooked when talking about Robin William’s resume.  The rating for it at the IMDB is 7.2, and that's certainly nothing to sneeze at.  But what perplexes me is the attitude that Warner, who owns the rights seems to have towards it. 

Yes, you’ll repeatedly hear about Dead Poet’s Society, Mrs. Doubtfire or his academy award winning turn in Goodwill Hunting but seldom do people mention Garp these days.  It seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle, and there’s no reason for a film this well acted and this well made to be left for dead.

Garp One 

I had the film in my Netflix queue for well over a year in the number one spot.  It was on very long wait in the "expected availability" during that time and never budged or nudged upward to even just “long wait”.  Netflix should start a new category and call it "You'll Get it When Hell Freezes Over."  And checking now, I see it is no longer available and if you know anything at all about Netflix, that’s the end of that.

Warner, has relegated the film to it’s Burn On Demand DVD-R program which is sort of like the shit end of the DVD Stick.  When they do that, seeing a movie get a decent blu-ray release is practically nil. But, it’s better than nothing.

But Garp should have a blu-ray release with all the trimmings. If you've never seen it or read the book, there's a lot going on here.  So much so I wouldn't even begin to run through the plot with you but if you want to know just look up the synopsis on the internet where I'm sure you'll find it.  The film was released in 1982, and it came after the disastrous Robert Altman version of Popeye (which currently has no DVD release).  And the failure of Popeye has more to do with Altman’s insistence on doing his artsy fartsy shtick than anything Williams did.  The film was an incoherent clumsy bore.  (Caveat: Ebert gave Popeye *** 1/2 stars, but I don’t see it). But I’ll leave that criticism for another day.

Garp Twoa

Ebert gave Garp three stars and you can read his review here.  But those that have read Irving’s book and seen the film are just as likely to come away with a completely different interpretation.  The movie is a discovery of the unexpected, at times uplifting, but tragedy is always lurking around the corner. As  Ebert puts it, “Garp is bleak, but it has something to say.”

In some ways, the events of Garp do mirror the image we have of Robin Williams.  He has a strong will to overcome, but he cannot ignore the bleakness of humanity that surrounds and engulfs him.  Garp believes that life has much to offer, but when one tragic event leads to another, it’s as if he’s beating his head against the wall.  But he never succumbs to the cruel jokes played by destiny.

Garp 3 

Could you imagine if this movie had been given a commentary track with Williams, Lithgow, and Glenn Close?  Lithgow was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Award as transsexual ex-football player Roberta Muldoon.  And Glenn Close was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Award as Garp’s mother, Jenny Fields. 

But Warner please take note:  As I write, every single one of Williams films on blu-ray is now on back order from Amazon.  This film deserves to be yanked out of the forgotten pile and placed front and center. Many people believe that Good Morning, Vietnam was his first good film. A few Altman devotees believe it was Popeye.   It’s too bad that Garp came immediately after Popeye, and five years and a few other forgettably bad films before his shining moment as Adrian Cronauer.  This terrific film has just been lost in the shuffle.Garp 5
You can purchase the DVD-R either through the Warner Archives Store where I got mine just a few weeks ago when they were having a sale or through Amazon.  But it's the same DVD-R disc.

Or, you can buy it digitally through Amazon for $7.88 so if you have a way to view it that way, that might be your best bet since it's HD.

There comes a moment just as the funeral of Garp’s grandfather (Hume Cronyn whom along with Jessica Tandy as the Grandmother are terrific in small roles) is ending, and immediately before we transition from the years of Young Garp (wonderfully played by James McCall) to the adult Garp played by Williams.  And in a way, besides summing up Irving’s Garp, it may have foretold Williams own life.

Young Garp (to his mother Jenny Fields):  Now you don’t have a father either.
Jenny: I know.  Everybody dies.  My parents died.  Your Father died.  Everybody dies.  I’m going to die too.  So will you.  The thing is to have a life before we die.  It can be a real adventure, having a life.
On the outside, Williams always seemed to be living the adventure, bringing joy and touching the lives of so many.  But it was never enough to placate those demons that haunted him throughout his life.  And because of that, the world will forever be a sadder place.  Because as Jenny said, everybody dies.  Sometimes, way too soon.