Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: We honor the life and career of Robin Williams by looking back on some of the late actor’s finest performances.
The World According To Garp (1982)
Robin Williams rises above his material in The World According To Garp, an adaptation of John Irving’s novel—co-written by the author himself—that gave its star his first big-screen opportunity to show that he was more than just a funny man. Williams plays Garp, a wannabe author whose life is influenced by a variety of women, most notably his nurse mother Jenny Fields (Glenn Close). Drawing on her detached views of sex and lust, Jenny pens her own book, which promptly becomes a sensation and turns her into a feministic icon. Her rise as a paragon of women’s rights—replete with her eventually running a shelter for wayward and abused women—is the backdrop for Garp’s own coming-of-age, from sexually frisky prep-school boy to husband to father of two young boys.
Director George Roy Hill attempts to cram as much of Irving’s sprawling novel as possible into his film. The results are—to put it mildly—uneven, as many key emotional moments and peripheral subplots are given such short shrift that the story feels like a hastily assembled quilt missing more than a few important patches. In spite of its shortcomings, however, Garp also serves as early confirmation of Williams’ talents as a dramatic actor. While a scene of Garp and his sons pretending to be knights and stabbing each other on the front lawn allows the headliner to show off his goofier, more playful side—also on display during the character’s tender bonding with transsexual Roberta (John Lithgow)—a raft of far more grave incidents involving professional doubt, adultery, and the death of loved ones allow Williams to exhibit his full range. If the film never fully coheres, it’s ultimately through no fault of Williams’. His nuanced performance as a man struggling to navigate personal, marital, and gender-related tensions provides a early glimpse of his versatility.
Availability: The World According To Garp is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store, and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.