Oscar Blindspots: Diner/The World According to Garp

It might be 40 years late, but I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 1982 through the month of July

An ensemble of future stars fight for attention, while a future movie star makes a stunning debut in an oddity of a film.

Directed by Barry Levinson

In 1959 Baltimore, a group of male friends (Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, and Paul Reiser) navigate a changing world where they are too old to be kids but feel too young to be adults. They frequently talk about their lives each night at their favorite diner.

The youth of star-studded faces is the real draw. Bacon was the most famous of the group, and he still had not broken out in a big way yet. Guttenberg surprised me the most with his fully-formed character. His character is a bit of a scumbag, but Guttenberg still lays on charisma. Rourke is the best performance of the group. He comes across as a meathead, but is soulful and quietly sensitive. I also really enjoyed a young Ellen Barkin as a conflicted wife to one of the guys.

How much you enjoy the film will depend on where you are in life. If you are around the same age as these guys, it makes sense to connect. If you are older, they can come across as whiny and annoying. The film worked well for me. You can tell it’s a story Levinson had been itching to tell and that personal passion shines through.

The World According to Garp
Directed by George Roy Hill

T.S. Garp (Robin Williams) was raised by a single-mother Jenny Fields (Oscar-nominee Glenn Close). While his interests lie in wrestling, girls, and writing fiction, Jenny begins writing a book on lust and human sexuality. The resulting book turns her into a feminist icon. Garp continues to write and marries Helen (Mary Beth Hurt) while Jenny establishes a home for women, which includes transgender football player Roberta Muldoon (Oscar-nominee John Lithgow).

If that plot summary sounds strange, you don’t know the half of it. Based on the John Irving novel, the film goes in odd directions with odd reasoning for why it does what it does. It is extremely detached from any sort of reality but it never descends into anything fantastical either. It’s stuck in this weird middle ground. On top of that, Garp is the main character but so detached from all the action of the film. The edges are what makes it interesting and the result is a pointless main character.

Close and Lithgow are both great in complex parts. Close plays Jenny as this impossible woman to figure out, but imbues her with warmth and generosity. It’s a remarkable film debut. Lithgow could have easily gone to far to the extreme with his characterization, but doesn’t resort to cheap tricks or laughs. Williams is fine, but is saddled with a character the film has no interest in. He seems miscast.

A strange film filled with strange performances (Close and Lithgow aside), it’s easy to be confounded by the preceding 136 minutes.

That does it for 1982! Check out my picks for the Best of 1982 and check out all my Best of the Year lists (under constant construction)

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