Directed by Penny Marshall
The victims of an encephalitis epidemic many years ago have been catatonic ever since, but now a new drug offers the prospect of reviving them
Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro. Two actors who are well known throughout the world. Williams for his comedy roles and crazy antics when he does standup and DeNiro for playing his heavy roles and/or angry loner roles.
Both actors were trained in the classical sense. Williams at the Julliard School and DeNiro with Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. The acting schools of "realism". To not really act but be the character. Part of the evolution of acting that began in the 1950s.
You wouldn't think Williams trained at Julliard looking at his body of work. The perception of schools like that is that the actors play serious roles, not an alien called Mork who always wears suspenders. But Awakenings shows us that he can indeed play serious roles.
In Awakenings, Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer, the shy, introverted lead in the film. He's a man who found a way to give the lives back to a group of catatonic patients, which of course is ironic because Dr. Sayer really doesn't live that much. He's more comfortable being alone in his apartment looking over books on plants than to actually converse with someone.
Robin Williams does a remarkable job with this role. Here is a man who needs to make the audience care for him a great deal in order for Awakenings to work. And he needs to do it all by himself without talking to anyone about what he's feeling inside.
This is not a sexy role at all. These are the extremely tough roles to do in film because it all has to come in from inside of the actor's soul. There is no great speech, there is no extraordinary circumstance that they are in, there is no blindness, mental problems or any of those things that the awards people seem to like. He is just playing a human being with typical human emotions.
Dr. Sayer is the definition of a loner. There is an inner sadness inside of him that's inside all of us. And that's why we love this man so much. He cares deeply, but is too shy to tell anyone about it.
I am glad I got into this film. I am a shy person in many ways. There is a girl who works in a jewelry store that I pass by everyday. There is something remarkable about this girl and I am very much interested in actually speaking to her. But I am afraid and I pass by the store without ever going in. I am not living life like I should be and Awakenings re-told me this.
Robert DeNiro plays the sexy role. He's Leonard Lowe, the first man to come out of the state he's in in the hospital. He's lost half his life and has gone from 11 to 41 overnight. DeNiro is great as always playing the frail Leonard. He's a character that makes you cry everytime you see him. And when he strikes up a relationship with a member of the opposite sex, you can't help but tear up inside. This is a role DeNiro rarely plays. To put this role in perspective, DeNiro played a mobster in Goodfellas, then moved onto Awakenings and then left the Awakenings set to play a psycho path in Cape Fear. So sandwiched in the roles where is playing a killer, DeNiro plays Leonard Lowe. Amazing stuff.
All in all, Awakenings taught me a lot. Director Penny Marshall seemed to have has a run of terrific films in the late 80's/early 90's and then disappeared never to be heard from again.
Come back Penny. You were telling great stories of the human emotion. Hollywood needs more of those films.