I’m old enough to remember Robin Williams as Mork — and I’m talking pre-Mork & Mindy, back when he was a cameo on Happy Days. I grew up watching him evolve from a TV oddity into a bona fide movie star, and as much as the news of his sudden passing sucked, the mother lode of films he left behind as his legacy provided almost instant solace.
And the man made a shit-ton of films. Some instant classics, like like Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting; others merely brilliant, like Mrs. Doubtfire and The Birdcage. He even made crap movies — Toys, Bicentennial Man and Old Dogs come to mind — seem no-so-crappish because he was so goddam engaging to watch on screen.
Such a huge catalog is bound to include some gems that were unfortunately, and in some cases unjustly, overlooked. As a tribute to the man, I wanted to share five films that will probably never be counted among his most famous, but will always rank among my favorites.
5. Jack: Alright, it’s sappy. It’s cloying. It’s got a Bryan Adams song. It practically begs us to kick suspension of disbelief in the balls. But I have always been an unabashed fan of this Francis Ford Coppola flick that casts Williams as a boy with a strange medical condition that ages him at 10 times the normal rate. Guest starring J Lo as his teacher, Bill Cosby as his doctor and Fran Drescher as a horndog single mom who tries to nail him. THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT.
4. One Hour Photo: Williams as a creepy old dude who works in the photo department of the local Wal-Mart-type store and develops an unhealthy obsession with one customer’s family after years of viewing their photos? Sign me up for that shit.
3. World’s Greatest Dad: Not to be confused with Father’s Day, a fairly lame flick he made with Billy Crystal, World’s Greatest Dad has Williams as a failed writer whose son dies in an autoerotic asphyxiation mishap. Attempting to avoid embarrassment, Williams’ character stages the death as an intentional suicide and writes a suicide note that becomes a viral sensation. Inspired by his sudden “celebrity,” he then creates a fake journal of his son’s writing and basks further in the fond reception. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait of Shakes the Clown fame, so you kinda know what you’re getting into.
2. House of D: Before Williams hit a run of pretty unspectacular output — swill like RV, Man of the Year, License to Wed and Old Dogs — he put out two of his finest films of the 21st century: Insomnia and House of D. I’ve always preferred D because it’s a low-budget indie that showcases Williams in yet another quirky role: a mentally challenged janitor who befriends a local teen who lost his dad.
1. “Bop Gun,” Season 2, Episode 1, Homicide, Life on the Streets: Okay, this is cheating, because it’s not technically a film but an episode of one of the great TV crime dramas of the ’90s. But Williams’ guest spot as a tourist trying to keep a grip on his sanity after his wife is murdered was better than probably one-quarter of his movie work.
Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my all-time favorite Robin Williams role: Parry in The Fisher King. The film was a hit, so it doesn’t really qualify as an overlooked gem. But it is far and away Williams’ most arresting performance, besting even Good Will Hunting. It’s a haunting, humorous, off-the-rails performance that balances screaming fits of rage with tenderly surreal moments, such as this scene, in which the object of his affection walks through a train station and reality literally falls away.