Mark Romanek is the writer and director of this remarkable movie. It is an intriguing set of contrasts: antiseptic big box store meets the startling intimacy of a photo lab meets people living the beautiful life in rich suburbs meets cold reality meets damaged good. The film is a harsh experience to get through but one eminently worthy of the attempt. First of all you have Robin Williams playing the painfully shy Seymour Parrish. Sy is a character that is so incredibly subdued and disappear-into-the-pastel-background-ish that it would be a difficult role for any actor but to have the larger than life and not nearly as contained Robin Williams play it — THE Robin Williams — well… that’s nigh unto miraculous. I’m a fan of the impressible Williams but this is the dramatic performance of a lifetime. He is controlled desperation and so much more in this film. You just have to see it or you can’t understand. And the other actors are excellent: especially Connie Nielsen (Nina Yorkin), Michael Vartan (the husband Will Yorkin) and Dylan Smith (Jakob Yorkin).
It’s a amazingly interesting story. The revolution of digital photography has all but removed the place of the photo shop as batteries and digital storage become film and endless stills but before it goes we see Romanek’s vision of just how intimate the photo guy is. He or She is like a Doctor or Dentist with secrets we can trust with no other. So here’s this photo guy who idolizes this perfect family of suburbia. This couple and their kids who he knows, perhaps better than he should, even if they know nothing about him. And his reaction to learning that the husband isn’t perfect and is risking so much for so little? How can Sy do anything to help preserve the child’s happiness? The lovely Nina’s happiness? Especially after he’s fired from the job that gives him access to them? The answer, of course, is he can’t. Or rather, that anyone normal couldn’t. We’d be too stuck in our own lives to try. And, strangely, too good. But Sy, damaged as he is, does it anyway. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t even try to preserve the fairy tale of Jake’s innocence. He goes beyond that and with shame and his own revulsion he makes them all, particularly Jake’s father, see the damage done.
And, at the last, there is hope. The audience and perhaps the Detective knows a little about Sy’s Hell, but there is a chance for the Yorkins even if they don’t know. And they may never know who to thank.
Two of the most outstanding parts of the film echo a portion of Sy’s monologue describing what people take pictures of. And how he yearns to see pictures of the ordinary. Jake does just that and Sy weeps as he looks at the beauty of those senstive and yet unframed pictures. And then at the very end when Sy looks at his own pictures which aren’t what the audience expected at all. You have to be there.
Not a show for the young but extremely recommended for everyone else.
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