Friday, August 21, 2015

Remembering Robin

Image from Wikipedia
Robin Williams was one of the most influential people of my childhood. I'm sure a lot of people can say that. He was our modern day clown prince. He was full of so much energy, I'm sure it was difficult for some folks to keep up with him in a conversation. It was that energy that I really responded to.

I didn't even know he did stand up for the longest time. I always knew him from his movies. Movies with Robin Williams in them were movies I knew would make me laugh, and I watched them over and over and over again. And as we both grew older, he started not just making me laugh, but making me think and feel.

Some of the movies I'll list below may be of dubious quality, but I have great memories watching them and I'll defend them because, dammit, not everything has to be cynical and sarcastic. If that's one thing that he did better than anyone, he was never cynical. He always struck me as genuine.

1. Aladdin

I love Aladdin to this day. It has problems, and I recognize those problems. But it's also a action-packed adventure that features the greatest wise-cracking sidekick to ever grace the screen in the Genie, it also features my favorite villain. I watched this movie so much growing up, I have it memorized almost word for word. Watching that movie now, it's words and images have made surely permanent grooves in my brain, it's almost like listening to a beloved song--I can tell when things will swell and fall, and I can even sing along.

2. Good Morning, Vietnam

I didn't watch this one as much as a kid, but it was one of several films in which Robin's unconventional and unexpected energy and joy would was used to fight the cynical and needlessly serious powers that be. While some of those later films occasionally danced into schmaltz to get that across, this film, in my opinion, works perfectly. Robin's inappropriate jokes and lack of respect for authority provided a bright spot to Americans stuck in a dark situation with no light. And, it painted the Vietnam war as more complicated than a simple Us vs. Them story. It even showed that sometimes joy and optimism simply isn't enough. And those are good lessons.

3. Mrs. Doubtfire

As a kid from a divorced him in which his father was...less than he should have been, this movie was huge to me growing up. It was probably more influential than I realized in helping me cope with what my parents were going through, and looking back, I probably watched this movie so much because it let me imagine that I had a father like Robin--someone so dedicated to his kids that he'd do anything, including adopting a disguise, in order to be in their lives.

4. Final Cut

Robin seemed to go through a period where he was interested in expanding his role. Having done dramedy type roles in the past, the early 2000's featured a lot of darker roles, including this little sci-fi film. Robin plays a character that's in charge of editing someone's memories into a final slideshow to honor the life of the person. The film  makes a lot of interesting points about how everyone has dark moments and how we tend to romanticize people in death. You see the main character dealing with seeing various people doing pretty bad things from their own point of view, some way more than others, and he still manages to craft a lovely, happy final remembrance, which begins to raise ethical questions. The movies is brilliant and is probably one of his most underrated.

5. Insomnia

While One Hour Photo was the first "dark" Robin Williams movie I saw, Insomina was probably my favorite (next to Final Cut). Robin Williams plays the straight up bad guy in this movie, playing opposite Al Pacino, who plays a detective that goes to investigate a murder in Alaska, but begins experiencing mental issues when his sleep pattern is disrupted by the perpetual daylight of the north. Robin showed that he had some heavy acting chops when he wants to, and reminds us that he really is more than just some silly man that can make us laugh. He can also scare us.

Honorable Mention: World's Greatest Dad

This was a weird movie. Unlike his other comedies, which were generally pretty family friendly and warm-hearted, this one is a black, black comedy in which Robin plays a pretty bad person. He's a dad (obviously) with a obnoxious prick for a son. When his son accidentally kills himself while trying out some crazy masturbation fetish, Robin decides to cover up his son's death by staging his death as a suicide and crafting a fake note for his son to have left behind. Things spiral out of control when he suddenly starts getting tons of attention, popularity, even fame. This movie was hilarious in the most unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways. It's probably not for everyone, but it's certainly one that deserves a look.


There are so many others that I didn't list: Jumanji, Hook, Patch Adams, etc., etc., etc. Most of Robin Williams's life was dedicated to reminding us that even in the darkest of times, sincerity, joy, and childlike wonder were the best approaches. Even though he dipped into asking darker questions here and there, it means quite a lot that he kept returning to those themes consistently. He was a massive part of my childhood, and as silly as it feels to say this about someone I didn't know, I do miss him. But I makes me glad to know that he's always there when I need my day brightened.