Robin Williams. Always funny, sometimes brilliant, sometimes inaccessible, every so often utterly telling, every so more often utterly mawkish. Here, middle-aged, stressed, scowly and stuffed full of grumpy old man. It’s a film made distressingly late in his life, about a man told he has 90 minutes to live. This gives it layers and a difficult edge, for no-one should be brutalised out of their existence the way Williams was, but makes a useful point about those of us shoved to the edge of our humour and the scrabble to claw back sympathy and love. As such is the agony of The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. Redemption ain’t easy.
Old Jack here was on a sugar low and in a bit of a foul mood. I was over-tired, clumsy, and throbbing in face and toe from a fracas with the bathroom door. Slumping into the easiest chair in the TV room, I needed to see Robin Williams losing it in traffic, at twattish taxi drivers, and at Mila Kunis‘s equally stressed and fucked up doctor…forcing her to expedite his aneurysm prognosis from shitty to cataclysmic.
She is self-medicating and wildly unhappy with her life, even allowing Louis C.K. to have sex with her (oh yes, there is a #metoo shocker that took me right out of the movie). But the diagnosis scene shapes the rest of the film: Williams is taken beyond rage for his promised 90 minutes, Kunis is in a desperate rush to undo the damage. Even though, you know, aneurysm clock a-ticking.
Each actor narrates the film at different points, swapping stories to underline the misery on show. Our heroes are sad, trapped, essentially nailed to the mid-life awfulness of the western world. With into-the-microphone intimacy. The cinematography makes Brooklyn, the stars, and all the supporting players look tired and beautiful. Such is life. the dialogue tries to make them funny.
Williams’ Altmann sets about repairing his life: trying to sleep with his wife, but discovering she gets pleasure elsewhere, sort-of chatting to Peter Dinklage – here, his brother – who gives off a sensitivity that humanises the grump, then trying to reach his son, previously rejected for ignoring his Dad’s demands and picking a career as a dancer. Well, a leaner. Strictly this ain’t.
Imagine you had 90 minutes to engineer your own redemption. The film makes a reasonable fist of this, but an undertone of justifiable-self-pity gets in the way. For Williams’ anger isn’t just about the stress of the modern world and the hideous character faults it cracks open; it’s about grief. A once-happy family has spent two years caught by grief. So, the anger is pitiable and that…reduces things.
Kunis’s Doctor Sharon Gill is also travelling a path to redemption, but her one is secondary despite a rather sparkier and natural performance. Pills and sex are clunky signposts for her pain, and her drive is protecting her licence not solving her life. So…not wildly satifying when you get to the inevitable point of self-control and fresh, new agency…
It’s an okay film, and old Jack here enjoyed Williams’ raging before it became pitiable. The pain of middle-age in the modern world, or even just the modern world, would have been sufficient to drive the plot, but it dips too far into familial sugariness, forces an awkward juxtaposition with Kunis’s life of drugs and loveless sex, and has a final reel that is inevitable, formulaic and ineffective at manipulating this audience member’s tear ducts. There’s a dash of The Bucket List (2007) going on, but without the depth of characterisation (it turns out!) or the warmth.
Kunis is fun, but self-harm is an ugly thing.
Given how the next year treated Robin Williams, I may well have watched this film hoping for a glorious career-ender whilst being utterly pissed at what fate did to a brilliant, kind, talented man. Watching him rush to fix things in Death’s cold shadow…didn’t help.