One Hour Photo
Director: Mark Romanek. Cast: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Dylan Smith, Eriq LaSalle, Gary Cole, Erin Daniels, Clark Gregg, Nick Searcy. Screenplay: Mark Romanek.

What is this fresh new damnation? First we have to suffer through all of those movies where Robin Williams played big teddy bears, clown-nosed doctors, and friendly robots—and now we have to endure reverse indignities as he seeks to switch directions? This is more than anyone should have to put up with.

In fairness, the recent Christopher Nolan remake of Insomnia, in which Williams savored the crucial role of the weirdly confessional killer, was a worthy movie. Williams’ own participation was not seriously off-the-mark, even if (maybe because) his character’s psychotic need to be loved resonated so strongly with the abject, imploring exhibitionism so often evinced by this performer. And yet, among all the banal and off-putting implications of One Hour Photo—which casts Williams as Seymour “Sy” Parrish, a tick-tocking film developer just waiting to explode on a family of customers—one of the crudest is that the best way to avoid being typecast as a beaming idiot is to re-typecast oneself as a deranged, self-loathing murderer. The all-too-obvious strategizing behind this one-two punch of roles betrays exactly the same lapse in ethical and psychological maturity that so generally cripples Williams’ actual portrayals. Are there no gradations between pure love and pure dementia? Ironically, whatever their superficial differences, Williams’ approach to acting in One Hour Photo is essentially the mirror image of his style in pap like What Dreams May Come: here, instead of passing from forlorn to beatific, Photo’s Sy passes from beatific (or, at least, really smiley) to forlorn. The dollop of pure, mouth-foaming rage in the closing sequence is just for garnish, but it’s still the same machinery underneath. I’m suspicious even more than before that Williams’ acting toolkit comprises only two instruments. The putative change of pace represented by One Hour Photo amounts to no greater inspiration than using them in a different order.

Meanwhile, the film itself is no great shakes, either. The poor sops who so captivate Sy’s interest before eventually drawing his ire are vaguely impersonated by Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan—an incredibly beautiful Danish actress schooled in Paris and Rome, and an incredibly beautiful (though suddenly brunette) French actor who divided his life between the two continents. Why, who would you cast as American suburbanites? There’s of course no reason why performers with these backgrounds couldn’t do right by this story (a skill commonly known as “acting”), but their presence here is unmistakably symptomatic of One Hour Photo’s blatant divorcement from the milieu it means to describe. Have any of these people ever visited an actual suburb, or a convenience store? Nielsen slinks around in her natty coif and fur-accented coat, and Vartan yells at her for spending so profligately on exactly these sorts of indulgences—but they develop their film and shop for toys at a SavMart? My best guess is that Romanek wanted the Yorkin family to be swanky and well-outfitted so that we could understand their intoxicating effect on Sy, who secretly develops and fetishizes extra copies of all their negatives. But it’s yet another sign of the artistic bankruptcy and corporate studio intervention in so much “independent” film that One Hour Photo’s emblematic notion of human despair is a shlubby retail guy who wishes, often tearfully, that he could wake up a wealthy fashion-plate. Grade: C–

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