This list is a celebration of the life and talent of Robin Williams. I won’t be spreading this around on social media because I don’t want to try and generate web traffic because of this tragedy. However I do feel that, like most actors, a proper remembrance of his life involves a celebration of his film. So below are my five favourite performances from Robin Williams. I have not seen all of his films although I mean to in the future, but here are the films I remember him for.
Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Did Williams make a more important film than this one? I’m not sure, but this is easily a contender for that title. Good Morning Vietnam gave us the classic Williams performance but with a potently dramatic element added. Williams provided us with the understanding of the necessity of humour in our lives, but also with the tragedy of death.
Any kid born in the 90s is familiar with the Genie because he is one of the all-time greatest characters in film. He provided most of us with the first real example of accessible referential comedy. He would reference people like Rodney Dangerfield but would tell the joke in such a way that kids like me who didn’t know who he was referencing would laugh anyways. But the real strength of the Genie is the real strength found in all of Williams’ roles, he humanized his characters. He gave nuanced portrayals of the most outlandish characters so that we didn’t just laugh, we felt.
The Birdcage (1996)
This is probably a controversial choice, but to me Williams role in The Birdcage made me understand that the effeminate stereotypes often ascribed to gay men are not to be demonized because they are stereotypes. Williams gave the performance his all and made those stereotypes something to celebrate in that film. It wasn’t funny because he was playing gay, he was funny because he was funny.
Night at the Museum (2006)
This is definitely the most unconventional choice on the list but it demonstrates something important about Williams’ career. Night at the Museum is not a great movie. There is an argument that it’s barely even a good movie. But it’s impossible to argue that Robin Williams’ didn’t steal every scene he was in as Teddy Roosevelt. And it’s not because he was doing the comedy that made him one of the greatest funny men of all time. It’s because he humanized a president, and gave us a touchingly beautiful rendition of history. Kids movies don’t often get the nuance they should, Williams always gave them the nuance they deserved.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
What fan of poetry doesn’t just adore this movie? Sure it’s unrealistic in how poetry is actually studied but what Williams accomplished here was a paradigm shift in the way poetry was thought of. The study of literature for so long seemed filled with the most stuffy and pretentious of minds and voices, but Williams performance reminded us that sometimes art is meant to be experienced. I can recall going to the pier in my town one day with some friends to read poetry as our own dead poet’s society. We read about living deliberately and sucking the marrow out of life. And in that reading we understood it on the level his performance wanted of us. He was funny sure, but he taught us how to love art, how to live art; and that is surely the more important lesson of that film.
Here though is the thing I want people to remember if they come across this post.
I don’t often post remembrances of celebrities who have died. But this seems more important than most celebrity mourning. This is at least the second remarkable talent to die from a mental health issue this year. Whether it is depression, addiction, or any other form of mental trauma that is under reported and under treated in society; we are not doing our part in talking about this and helping those who suffer. Depression kills, a great human being is dead, and I am mourning our collective loss.