The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

Movie Review #864

IT GOES TO SHOW THAT EVEN WHEN HE WAS WORKING ON A TERRIBLE MOVIE, ROBIN WILLIAMS STILL HAD THE SOULFUL POWER TO MAKE US LAUGH.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

angriest_man_in_brooklyn

Released May 23, 2014 (nationwide)
Comedy, Drama
Rated R (contains frequent profanity, sexual content)
83 minutes

NOTE: This is my longest review ever. It is 1,220 words long, breaking my previous record of 1,168 words (my “Alice” review) by a matter of 51 words. Which kind of blows my mind, because this is the trimmed-down version; my first draft was 5 sheets, handwritten front-and-back on a legal pad, and most likely close to 1,400 words long.

I am writing this review two days after the passing of the late Robin Williams, a genius on his bad days and a demigod on his good days.

I felt obligated to watch “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” last night because it was released almost three months ago, not two decades ago. I needed to remind myself that Williams didn’t fade out at his ending; that he’s still the Robin Williams we all know and love. Funny, happy…and in this case, extremely angry.

I was worried that “Angriest Man” would not showcase this, that I would end up not laughing at all, that I would find not a moment of enjoyment in it. It’s hard not to expect this when you’re about to watch a movie with a 10% on the Tomatometer, and a Metascore of 21 out of 100. Perhaps the movie is underrated, and perhaps we got precisely what we should have out of Williams’s curtain-closer: a comedy that is absolutely terrible, but made watchable, funny, charming, and enjoyable by Williams’s performance. It reminds us just what a dynamic performer he was. Without him, “Angriest Man” is an aimless, hopeless film, bereft of a single laugh.

What makes “Angriest Man” such an enjoyable movie, right off the bat, is that the main character’s the stereotypical, sixty-year-old, Italian man who hangs around in a wife-beater yelling at kids to get off his lawn, even when they’ve barely touched the curb. Williams clearly is not Italian, and he doesn’t take on a New York-Italian accent. He talks like a pissed-off version of himself. He doesn’t wear a wife-beater; in fact, he wears a suit. But his approach to the character is, on a very rudimentary level, so obvious that the caricature seems absolutely ridiculous.

Though the character isn’t one-dimensional. He starts out that way. The movie isn’t about an angry man. Deep down, he’s like every Robin Williams character: loving, happy, and soulful. He just gets so easily angered, and anger has become a part of him, rather than an occasional emotion. Even before his introduction come the first laughs, in a 1989 flashback when the character isn’t angry. But while we’re watching this scene, the credits are rolling over. Certain letters in each credit are highlighted in red, to spell inner words like “angry,” “cranky,” “ire,” and “grr.”

The character, whose name is Henry, gets upset over things that would set us off, too. He just doesn’t handle his anger in the most appropriate ways, something that ends up coming back to haunt him. On his way to work, his car is hit in an intersection by an oncoming taxi. He gets out of the car and starts yelling ethnic slurs to shame the cab driver. Later, Henry goes to the doctor and discovers that his usual doctor is out, and the substituting doctor (Mila Kunis) is two hours late. Apparently, it’s because her cat jumped out a window and she was trying to take care of it. He starts chastising her for putting her cat’s needs above his own.

While at the doctor’s office, Henry also discovers that he is suffering a brain aneurysm. He is told that it will become fatal in 90 minutes. When we hear something like this, 20 minutes into the film, we suspect the rest might perhaps play out in real time, but “Angriest Man” is a quick comedy, chopping from scene to scene. It plays out in a breezy 83 minutes.

Henry has not spoken to his son in two years, and he decides that despite the discord that has kept them apart, his main priority is to talk to his son before he passes.

“The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” hysterically showcases Robin Williams’s caricatured humor, and misses the mark on everyone else’s. It’s a lovable slice-of-life dramedy, but it’s also rather cloying and its climax does not work. The message here is made obvious too many times: love conquers all. (Thank god this isn’t without screenwriter Daniel Taplitz’s awareness. A minor character takes a moment early in the movie to ask us if the movie’s manipulative nature will cause us to demand a refund. Fortunately, it’s not that manipulative.)

The movie also reaches its final third when Williams’s character ponders whether or not to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. While the imminent death throughout the story is well-written as tragedy, with Williams’s antics meanwhile delivering lively comedy, this plot point involving attempted suicide is absolutely uncalled for. The scene is played for laughs, and while there’s a chance that it was funny back when the movie was theatrically released in May, it now seems less than funny, and disrespects the actor’s own tragic end.

The movie is directed by Phil Alden Robinson, who has been critically acclaimed for “Field of Dreams”, “Sneakers”, and “The Sum of All Fears”. But we don’t recognize Phil Alden Robinson unless we name what he’s done in the movie industry. After making “The Sum of All Fears” in 2002, Robinson’s name disappeared from Hollywood. Not only is “Angriest Man” his first film in 12 years, it’s also the first appearance he’s made in the movie industry at all in that amount of time. Not that I didn’t enjoy the humor for some part of it, but I might have enjoyed it entirely, had this been crafted a decade ago.

“The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” wouldn’t have worked if it were a Hollywood picture. Its quirk relates the New York setting to the New York film scene, not unlike many indie movies of late (“Frances Ha”, “2 Days in New York”). It refines the term “quick and easy” in its whimsical, carefree, metropolitan perusal of Robin Williams’s humor, a kind that is neither “high comedy” nor “low comedy,” but rather something in between the two. No one else seems funny at all here, which I’ve probably said a million times by now. It’s pretty hard to buy into Mila Kunis playing a doctor. Admittedly, her performance improves greatly near the end once she befriends Williams’s character. The two deliver surprising chemistry. But even then, she’s still one of the film’s two narrators (the other being Williams). Kunis’s narration feels as if it was written by Wes Anderson, and this is exactly why Kunis has never appeared, and never will appear, in any of Wes Anderson’s movies.

The rest of the cast is even worse. Apparently Melissa Leo was here. I didn’t even notice here, to tell you the truth. Peter Dinklage, however, is unfortunately very memorable in his role. I really can’t recall the last time I’ve seen someone so poorly miscast in any movie. He plays Robin Williams’s brother. Tyrion Lannister and Mr. Keating are brothers…yeah, okay.

“The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” was a great movie to finish Robin Willams’s career (though he does have three more films currently in post-production), but it’s not a great movie. It’s lazy. Lazily directed, edited, written, and acted. Perhaps the latter includes Williams, but acting just comes so naturally to him. “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” is no classic, but like any of Williams’s classics, it reminds us exactly why this man is a legend, and that he strongly remains as such after his passing.

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