In a follow up to my article on the sad decline of Robert DeNiro’s film career and legacy, I have decided to report on the equally sad decline of Mr. Robin Williams. In a career that has included 4 Oscar nominations (and 1 Oscar win), 2 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, and 2 SAG awards, Robin Williams has had success in both dramatic and comedic roles. Having studied at Juilliard from 1973-1976, Williams studied with revered acting teacher John Houseman and easily mastered dialects. It was soon after that he was cast by Garry Marshall in the hit sitcom Mork & Mindy, which ran from 1978-1982.
Williams’ gifts as a stand-up comedian reached a broader audience through three HBO specials: Off the Wall (1978), An Evening with Robin Williams (1982), and Robin Williams: Live at the Met (1986). He also hosted the Academy Awards in 1986. Later comedy specials opposite Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal only added to his ever-widening appeal.
Williams’ film career peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the films Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poet’s Society (1989), and The Fisher King (1991). He received Academy Award nominations for all three performances, and all three films were successful at the U.S. box office. Other successful film roles during this phase of his career included Awakenings (1990), the voice of the Genie in Aladdin (1992), and the smash hit comedy Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Williams’ career choices varied in their level of complexity and depth. In What Dreams May Come (1998), a visually stimulating, but depressing film, he played a man who dies and goes to heaven, but longs to be with his wife again. The Birdcage (1996) was well-suited to his comedic gifts. He opted to play the straight man (not literally) opposite Nathan Lane in a non-musical version of Broadway’s La Cage aux Folles. The cast received a SAG award for Best Ensemble Cast that year. In 1997, he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting. With a rare exception, it has been majorly downhill since then. Could it be the Oscar curse?
Here is the evidence: Patch Adams (1998), Bicentennial Man (1999), Jakob the Liar (1999), Death to Smoochy (2002), The Night Listener (2006), Man of the Year (2006), License to Wed (2007), August Rush (2007), and Old Dogs (2009). The rare exception included his bizarre, but interesting turn in One Hour Photo (2002) and his understated performance as a murderous psycho in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia (2002).
Why so few interesting film roles? He has resorted to one-note, badly written roles that leave him unchallenged, unfunny (in most cases), and commercially unreliable. It would be great to see him immerse himself in a gritty indie film with someone like Darren Aronofsky or Paul Thomas Anderson. The comedic timing and dramatic chops are there. However, they have been hiding while someone continues to choose paycheck movies. Apparently, the paychecks are drying up, too. His last hit at the box office (where he actually carried the film) was Patch Adams, a completely lame and ridiculous film. There have been modest hits where he wasn’t completely responsible for carrying the film (Happy Feet, Insomnia), but the days of box office domination are long behind him. He’s just trying too hard to be funny, and he comes across as desperate, lame, grossly unfunny, and in some cases…repulsive (License to Wed).
Avoid mainstream fare for a while, Mr. Williams. Head to the indie world and rediscover your inner actor. I would love to see Sofia Coppola do for Robin Williams what she did for Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. He was humorous, but also sad and vulnerable. It was a tour de force performance and Williams would have also been greatly suited to that role. Murray even got an Oscar nomination. Good luck with your future film choices, sir. You’re going to need it. You are fast becoming Robert DeNiro…a once great actor whose legacy is waning by the day.
Article by: Brian S.