When the news broke out about Robin Williams’ death several weeks back, there was a flood of his movies on cable. There was a lot of press about his yet to be released movies as the world mourned the loss of an amazing actor — not just a comedian but a real actor, who gave real depth to his TV and movie characters and shaped, for the most part, most childhoods of my generation. I was one of those who mourned his loss.
During one of these television marathons, I happened to chance upon one of his movies, Bicentennial Man, which was actually one of his movies that I most remembered. Sure, most people would say that Dead Poet’s Society or Good Will Hunting were their favorite movies of his but I think he did real fine work with this film about an extraordinary intelligent android named Andrew (Williams) who develops an uncanny bond with this masters — the Martins, in particular the family’s youngest daughter Amanda (Hallie Kate Eisenberg). The story runs the course of close to 200 years (thus the term bicentennial) and tells of Andrew’s evolution from a regular NDR series robot to an android who has evolved enough to be called human.
I really loved this movie because it was really sweet and sentimental. Playing the lead role, Robin Williams did not use his signature madcap comedy but used dialogue (through Andrew’s basic cluelesness about how humans behave) and logic to draw smiles from his audience. Its a welcome change of pace for Williams, who is like an endless bundle of energy on screen (Flubber, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji, Aladdin — I rest my case) and this gives the audience a chance to appreciate a quieter side to his comedy.
What I really liked about it was the approach. The story progressed in stages, with the transitions so well integrated into the story that it flowed smoothly as the years went by, but it never lost its focus on the fact that it was Andrew’s journey. And Andrew, though he was basically a robot, showed an endearing quality about him that made him stick out from the rest(justifying what he was the central character).
Williams displayed great rapport with Sam Neill, who played Richard or “Sir”, the head of the Martin family and their interactions were mostly poignant and/or amusing. Williams also played well with Eisenberg who played Little Miss, and later her granddaughter Portia as their unique love story unraveled with time. The best part of the movie is actually in tackling issues about slavery, inequality and getting the audience to think about the definition of humanity. When Andrew was asking to be declared a human, I liked the argument that he made to the jury about the presiding officer, in having mechanical parts that Andrew developed, being partly a robot. The technicalities and the long drawn out case for Andrew’s final acknowledgement as a human being, and his choosing to give up his immortality so that he may join humanity was the most touching parts of the movie.
All in all, despite the length of time tackled in the movie, Bicentennial Man was not boring. It was sweet, well executed and it had great substance. It was something different from Robin Williams, and at the time of its release, until now, it was a refreshing and welcome change of pace.