A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 199 – The Fisher King

The Fisher King – September 15th, 2010

You know, I really like Robin Williams but I hate his career. It’s so deceptive. For every movie like this, he’s got a Runaway Vacation or Hook (okay, so that’s got some nostalgia value for me, but I don’t deny for a second that it’s a bad movie). It’s like a sine wave. Great peaks, horrible valleys. Andy showed me this particular peak early in our relationship and while I admit there are some specifics I’m not super thrilled with, overall I love it. Much like Robin Williams’ movies. There are some clinkers, and then there are some gems, and it’s the gems that make me love his work.

While this movie certainly has some fantastical elements to it, I think I’ve got to very tentatively put it down as magical realism. I say tentatively because it’s not made clear in the movie how much of the fantastical element is due to mental illness and how much isn’t. Which, I believe, was intentional. Williams plays Parry, a mentally ill man who’s about a step up from homeless (his former landlord lets him live in the building basement, but he spends most of his time out on the streets with other homeless people) and is obsessed with the legends of the Holy Grail. He’s tormented by visions of a red knight on horseback who appears and chases him. He believes it’s his mission, his quest, to find the Grail. Which is in the home of a wealthy man who lives in a modern castle on 5th Avenue. He’s also obsessed with a young woman named Lydia, whom he’s been watching for ages. Long enough to know every moment of her daily routine.

Okay folks, say it with me: Stalking is not romantic. I’d like to make that clear at the outset. Sure, it seems all cute when Parry follows Lydia and knows her every move. And it’s nice that he says it’s “not like that”. But stalking is not romantic. Seriously. Ew. That’s one of my problems with the movie. I wish there’d been some other way to set up the Parry and Lydia plot. But the Parry and Lydia plot figures quite heavily into the rest of the movie. It’s frustrating, because I like Lydia. I like Amanda Plummer’s performance of Lydia. I like how looking at her one could pigeon-hole her but once she starts talking she’s not who she looks like. I like her eventual date with Parry and I like how she sticks by him because even though he totally stalked her, this is movie land where stalking can totally be romantic (really, it’s not, and it’s taking a lot of effort on my part to let that go at all here) and while Parry might have been a raunchy ass to the other female lead, Anne, he was nothing but a gentleman to Lydia. So really, why couldn’t there have been a non-stalkery way to bring her into things?

Lydia’s even the impetus for one of the most indelible scenes in my mind. Jeff Bridges plays Jack, a former radio shock jock modeled after Howard Stern, who lost his career and ended up a heavy drinker avoiding work in his girlfriend Anne’s video store. Jack is indirectly responsible for how Parry’s living now and once they meet feels like he has to help Parry somehow. After giving him money proves utterly useless, he resolves to help Parry meet and go on a date with Lydia. And while Lydia-watching together, Parry and Jack are present when everyone in Grand Central Station spontaneously begins to waltz. This is what I mean about being unsure what’s in Parry’s imagination and what’s actually happening but fantastical. It’s an amazing scene and reminds me of something I witnessed once in Park Street Station in Boston. A group of musicians was playing some 40s style swing music and the trains were running late and an older couple on the middle platform started to dance. Some kids beside us started soon after them. And I maintain that more would have joined if a train hadn’t come through. So was it real? Did Parry imagine it? Or did it happen? We don’t know. We don’t need to know.

So the whole Lydia thing bothers me, because I love the character and all, and I love many of her scenes, but yeah. Stalking. Anyhow, it brings up my other problem with the movie, which is really part of the same thing. It’s Parry. Now, I think overall he’s a great character and Wiliams plays him incredibly well, but his actions towards women are bizarre. He’s utterly vulgar to Anne, and while Anne’s a tough lady and can certainly handle herself (I will get to the awesome that is Anne in a moment), contrasting the Parry who stands on a table and tells her he’s going to take out his penis with the Parry who very tenderly explains to Lydia that he certainly wasn’t going to invite himself up to her apartment on the first date and yes, he will call her? Leaves me kind of feeling icky. I suppose it’s part of the character, that he sees Lydia as this unattainable ideal and Anne’s just not on his radar as someone he needs to respect. But while I can respect that as a choice made for the overall character, I don’t have to like that particular aspect of him.

I think the problem for me is that it ends up making me examine the women in the movie more, and while I do love both of them, there’s certainly a virgin and whore dichotomy going on, and it saddens me to realize that. I hadn’t really noted it when I first watched the movie, so it was an unpleasant thing to come upon here. That being said, I do believe Anne is presented in a mostly positive manner. Jack treats her like crap, sure, but she doesn’t hold back and well, people do indeed put up with a lot of crap when they love someone. Mercedes Ruehl plays her magnificently, showing her tough and hurt at the same time. She knows Jack’s got problems and somewhere inside, she knows she can’t fix them, but she loves him and so she sticks by him and hopes something works out. And when it doesn’t? Well, she’s pretty clear about not taking his shit anymore. I love Anne. I love her every line. I love every moment of her performance. I can imagine her toughness coming off as more of an act and it doesn’t with Ruehl playing her. It’s no act. It’s who she is. She makes the virgin and whore thing not matter so much because Ruehl refuses to let Anne be a victim or a bad guy.

All four leads are amazing, really. Bridges has some really impressive moments of desperation as Jack. Williams is about as on as he gets as Parry, playing every moment as if he truly is the man we see. I’ve made it clear what I think of Ruehl as Anne, and she nabbed an Oscar for it so I think it’s safe to say other people liked what they saw her do too. And Plummer as Lydia builds this wonderfully quirky character without having a single line until she’s several scenes in. Combine that with some scenes like the waltz in Grand Central, the big date and Parry’s initial appearance, rescuing Jack? And you have a bizarre movie, flawed in a few places but mostly just an epic quest for salvation, love and the Holy Grail in New York City. And that’s a wonderful thing.

September 15, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. re dancing at train station http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ3d3KigPQM

    Comment by Doc Wheat | September 16, 2010 | Reply

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