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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Worst Actors - Robin Williams

Mid-90's Williams;
So what does it mean to be one of the best actors among a slew of terrible A-list performers?  Well, I will give Robin Williams credit.  He does have some good performances under his belt.  The Dead Poets Society, Awakenings and Good Will Hunting are all good movies, and he was good in them.  However, when Robin Williams is not kept under control, and is given even a pittance of creative freedom, he can send a movie right off of the rails.  Williams’ manic and spastic behavior is common knowledge and part of his persona, and his notoriously embarrassing TV interviews in 1980’s and 90’s are the stuff of legend.  Robin Williams is, when kept under close control, able to perform, but his typical acting style is more like that of a nine year old cocaine addict with Tourette syndrome.  This was evident early on during his run on Mork & Mindy, a popular TV sitcom in which he performs alongside a subdued and underacting (bad acting) Pam Dawber, which makes him seem even more off-kilter and crazed.  

The performer he was most directly compared to for several years was that of Andy Kaufman, a comic talent who specialized in never really keeping the audience in on the joke, and who was actually quite brilliant in his ability to be deceptively entertaining.  Kaufman and Williams were both notable for playing comparatively crazy characters around the same time, but while Kaufman’s character on Taxi was reserved for supporting scenes and generally kept on a short leash, Williams was generally let loose on the set.  The same went for the total disaster that was Popeye.  A musical mess that should not of happened, was destined to fail from conception, and has become one of the most notably awful and costly bombs in film history.  

Through the 80’s, Williams appeared in one failure after another, from Club Paradise to Moscow on the Hudson, Williams once-promising career was beginning to look like a terrible mistake.  Then in 1989, he appeared in Dead Poet’s Society, an okay Oscar-bait film, one for which the Academy took said bait.  Dead Poet’s Society’s director, the sporadically-working, but consistently-good Peter Weir has a knack for squeezing surprisingly high-quality performances out of otherwise mediocre actors and, for some reason, this movie pushed Williams back into the public consciousness after a much-deserved career decline.  Then came the 90’s.  

The 90’s were a strange roller coaster for Williams.  The 1990 comedy Cadillac Man was a return to form for Williams, and despite his occasional attempt at drama, Williams maintained a steady career push in comedy.  1992’s Aladdin, released at the height of the Disney Renaissance was undeniably a turning point in his career as this performance’s success led him down a path towards slapsticky tripe, and the success of Hook the previous year had provided what would become the Williams formula for much of the 90's, schticky comedy slathered with heavy-handed family-focused schmaltz.  Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Toys, Jack, and Flubber are all prime examples of the Williams formula at its worst, and, once again, by the late 90’s his career was in decline despite a few mid-decade successes such as Jumanji and the Birdcage.  Then, in a case of history repeating itself, Williams struck gold again with the critical success of Good Will Hunting, a good movie with a couple of good performances that rode the wave of a truly awful film year in 1997. This would be the last seriously-good role in Williams’ career.  

Since the late 90’s, It has been one epic disaster after another, with the occasional drama mixed in as if to shout “HEY!!! SEE!!?!?  I’M STILL AN ACTOR!!!”, but it really has not been enough.  He has not struck gold since Good Will Hunting and, despite a few Oscar-bait flops like the heinous Jakob the Liar and the disgustingly self-indulgent and grotesque World’s Greatest Dad, Williams has maintained a safe spot in the A-list.  The lame and squandered Night at the Museum movies as well as a few steaming piles like RV and Grown Ups will be Williams’ legacy.  

So, why is he on this list?  One of the principal factors I am taking into consideration is the disparity between the best and worst performances of an actor.  Williams has proven he has chops and can carry a good movie, however he puts way too much stock in his manic comic performances and has an uncanny ability to pick the worst screenplays bouncing between major producers and studios.  For this alone, Williams deserves to be recognized as a lost cause in major cinema.

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