Damn! Is Robin Williams really starring in a little independent movie? Well, I don’t know how small it really is (with the production values and cast it couldn’t have been all that cheap), but there definitely may be some career rehab going on here.
Williams is Sy Parrish, or “Sy the photo guy”, who runs the one-hour photo center at the local SavMart. He’s always pleasant and attentive, but he may just take his job a little too seriously. Then again, he’s got nothing else going in his life. The only thing that seems to keep him going is the fantasy life he’s allowed himself based upon the photos he develops. Unfortunately, for over a decade Sy has come to focus on one seemingly perfect family, the Yorkins, consisting of Nina (Connie Nielsen), husband Will (Michæl Vartan), and nine-year-old son Jake (Dylan Smith). Sy has developed their family photos since before Jake was born. By now he feels he knows them so well that in his dream life he imagines himself as Jake’s “Uncle Sy”. He’s so emotionally invested in them that once they begin to unravel as a family, Sy begins to unravel too. It gets really, really ugly.
While this is the first feature that Mark Romanek has written and directed, he’s a legend in the music video field, for such clips as Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and Madonna’s “Bedtime Story”. In this case he knows to tone down the visual shenanigans, but just to a more subtle level. As the story is largely told from Sy’s point of view, often with his own narration, much of the movie is shot with a heightened sense of realism and color. The ultra-white SavMart store is a kind of crossbreed between a WalMart, an IKEA store, and a mausoleum. The Yorkin house is this too perfect vision of the American dream home. Together, these are the images that haunt Sy’s mind, but then this is his story. Unfortunately, that might be the problem. The Yorkin family is barely developed beyond what their basic problems are. That might be okay, if we only saw the story from Sy’s perspective, i.e., only what he could see. We don’t. This story begs for a harder focus, the kind of thing Stanley Kubrick was always good at, at least until he got a little too focused. What saves the film is Robin Williams in a very atypical role. If he’s trying to prove his acting chops, mission accomplished. He brings the depth the part needs, while never pandering or making him too likable. If this is the direction he’s headed in his career, fantastic. For auteur Romanek, it was at least a good first try.