My Ten Favorite Robin Williams’ Performances
Robin Williams, who died on Monday at the age of 63, has left behind a rich legacy of films that have made indelible impressions on movie-lovers. Branded as ‘comedian’, Robin Williams eventually evolved to become a surprisingly nuanced actor, imbuing manic energy into his lovable characters. His humor was infectious and at the same time we could feel his inherent sadness that went deep. Here are ten of my favorite Robin Williams performances that I will always treasure:
The World According to Garp (1982)
George Roy Hill’s tragicomic film (adapted from John Irving novel) tells the tale of T.S. Garp, the bastard son of nurse Johnny fields – a feminist who is ahead of her times. The movie takes a dig at the random violence in our society and extremist groups. Although the book and film is little annoying and vicious, Robin Williams’ performance was the best part. In his first unorthodox role, Williams wonderfully conveys the characters’ bewilderment at the queer things going on around his house.
Moscow on the Hudson (1984)
This film is a simple fable of cultural collision, where a Russian musician migrates to world’s capitalist hub – USA. If you take out the wondrously sensitive performance of Robin Williams in this movie, it would look entirely implausible and even unwatchable. He broadened his horizons in this character and displayed the acting chops that eventually propelled him into Oscar territory.
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Barry Levinson’s take on Vietnam War featured Robin Williams as a morning man on a armed forces radio, in Saigon. With a manic gleam in the eye, Williams gave an energetic performance that earned his first Oscar nomination. The oddball nature of his comedy was amply used in this film, especially in the way he discusses the army politics, Richard Nixon or about weather forecasts.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Peter Weir’s inspirational drama possesses the most memorable turn from Robin Williams, where he plays the teacher we all wish we had. Williams’ charismatic English teacher John Keating immensely inspired the young viewers to regard the virtues of individuality. Keating celebrates freethinking and turns poetry recital into a form of adventure. Williams gave a restrained performance, showing more of his sensitive side.
In this life-affirming true story, Williams played the role of a clinical psychiatrist alongside the brilliant Robert de Niro. The story is about a patient, who is revived from a 30-year state of catatonia by a gentle genius neurologist. De Niro’s physically wondrous performance was well matched by Williams’ underplay. His skilful acting never strays to become over-sentimental, but at the same times evokes many misty-eyed moments for the viewer.
The Fisher King (1991)
Wildly imaginative Terry Gilliam’s oft-kilter comedy drama tells the story of two wayward souls, whose interaction and good deeds transforms each other lives. Robin Williams played the role of Parry, a homeless crackpot, who believes that the Holy Grail is in a billionaire’s study in New York. Williams’ Parry is wildly hysterical and also inventively brings a warmth and gentleness that could only be done by him.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Robin Williams was at his frenetic form in this film, where he went through a barrage of familiar impersonations – from tweety bird to Gandhi. But, he was more hilarious when he was dressed in drag. Story wise, the film just mixed worn-out formulas and silly elements that were well dealt in movies like “Tootsie”. Nonetheless, the winning performance of Williams eclipsed the movie’s weakness to an extent.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Gus Van Sant’s uplifting film got Robin Williams his first and only Oscar (‘best supporting actor’). Matt Damon excelled in the titular role, Will – a rebellious and intelligent Boston boy with no life plans. Willis forced to attend a therapy, and his resulting interactions with psychiatrist Sean (played by Williams) gives us many endearing moments. Williams’ psychiatric role was a tricky one because the therapy scenes were long before branded as a cliché. But, thanks to wonderful writing and soulful performance, the film delves deep enough into the human psyche.
One Hour Photo (2002)
This is a schmaltzy, predictable B-grade thriller. It would have been that if the movie didn’t cast Robin Williams in his most atypical role. In 2002, Williams already did a full-fledged villain in Nolan’s serial-killer thriller “Insomnia”. But, as Sy, Williams exhibits a lot of tenderness that at times makes us wonder if he’s even the villain. With a thinning blonde hair and pale skin, Williams fully departed from his comic persona. He had wonderful silent moments that spoke volumes about his talent.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
After a string of box-office and critical failures, Bobcat Goldthwait’s dark comedy provided a come-back of sorts for Robin Williams. The movie satirically takes on the power of posthumous cults. Williams took on the role of a father, whose mean son kills himself through asphyxiation while jerking off. In order to avoid the humiliation, the father writes a phony suicide note. It’s a very challenging character to play, because one false note performance could have easily made us hate Williams’ character. In the movie’s final scene, Robin Williams frantically runs and energetically dives into swimming a pool, keeping his head above water. It’s a tear-jerking moment, especially after thinking about his fateful real-life decision.
Thank you Robin Williams! For giving us all those inspirational, thought-provoking, laugh-out loud and teary-eyed moments.