Thursday, October 30, 2014

One Hour Photo

This is my first post on a Robin Williams since his death. I didn't enjoy all his roles and thought to a certain extent he was too reliant on his usual comic persona, but he was a rare, one-of-a-kind performer, and his loss is tragic. There won't be another like him.

Williams was known more for his zany, comedic parts, the manic and rapid-fire way he flung himself into different voices, mannerisms, and impressions of various celebrities and other characters. It's easy to forget he was a good actor, brilliant even. Some of his best performances, I think, occurred when he managed to get away from his usual goofy self.

One Hour Photo (2002) strips away every sense of humor and humanity that Williams brought to his comedies. Williams plays Seymour "Sy" Parrish, a photo technician at Savmart. Sy takes great pride in his work, but he is lonely and lacking anything resembling a social life. He imagines himself as a favorite uncle to his favorite family, the Yorkins - father Will (Michael Vartan), mother Nina (Connie Neilsen), and 9-year-old Jake (Dylan Smith). The Yorkins have been developing their photos with Sy for years, and he's seen Jake grow up; they have everything he wishes he could have. He even makes duplicates of all pictures, so he can pin them on the wall in his empty little apartment. But when he gets fired by his boss (Gary Cole) and discovers the Yorkins' perfect family life isn't so perfect, he snaps.

Looking back on the movie, I can see how, with a little tweaking, One Hour Photo could have been another zany Williams comedy. Sy could have been a goofy, lovable photo clerk with a heart of gold who grows close to the people whose photos develops and helps them with their problems. It could have even been charming. It could have had a kinship with Mrs. Doubtfire, in which Williams played an out-of-work, divorced actor who disguises himself as a British nanny to be close to his children.

But the movie is not comedy, and it is not heartwarming. The chilling thought behind One Hour Photo is how a complete stranger can learn, rather easily, the intimate details of a family and think he belongs as a member. The Yorkins recognize Sy but don't know much about him. Will meets him once and barely gives him a thought while Nina thinks of him as the kindly photo technician. Only Jake recognizes something a bit off about Sy he tells his mom Sy is lonely, and later, when Sy tries to give him a toy he wants, Jake wisely declines.

Meanwhile, Sy has been developing the photos of the Yorkins since before Jake was born. He's seen photos of their wedding, Jake's birth, his birthday parties, and all those other special moments they captured on film. He knows all about them, and they know nothing about him because they've practically handed their lives over to him, trusting an anonymous photo clerk with those cherished memories.

Sy might be superficially polite and friendly to his customers, but they aren't his traits; they're his mask. Beneath his bespectacled, smiling visage is a blank slate, a desperate, empty existence. Sy lives vicariously through his customers. He has no friends, no family, no interests beyond his job and the people who bring him their photos. The photos, to him represent, perfection, the good life he wants but can't have, and when real life contradicts the happiness he sees in those pictures, he's shattered.

One-Hour Photo has the elements of a thriller, and Williams is undoubtedly creepy and obsessive, but more than anything else, it's a character study, a portrait of deranged loneliness. Even when he starts threatening people with a knife and crossing personal boundaries, Sy is pitiful or at least someone we as the viewers can understand and feel sorry for. He's not mean-spirited, and for the most part, other people ignore him or treat him with contempt (as his boss does). The creepiness stems from how he tries to immerse himself in the lives of the Yorkins and starts losing his grip on reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment