The late and great Robin Williams stars in this psychological horror film released in 2002 about a man named Sy Parrish, a lonely man who is obsessed with a family whom he believes to be perfect. The film was directed by Mark Romanek and resulted in Williams winning a Saturn Award for Best Actor.
I would say that I have been a fan of Robin Williams for a long time, probably ever since I first arrived on this planet. I think the first time he came to my attention was when he voiced the Genie in Aladdin, and that is a character that I still find funny today. I get that using modern day references can be annoying in films set in the past but honestly I am not one of the people who find him anything other than funny and charming. It was a tragedy that this great man was lost to the world before his time. Yet sometimes the people who appear to be the happiest can have the worst demons…hell, actors make their living convincing audiences that they are something they are not, so people don’t see what hides behind the masks we all wear, and how much people can be struggling…sadly this is not a tribute to a great man, it is instead a review of a film and one that I want to talk about so let’s crack on with the review.
Now for those of you who don’t know Williams was mostly known for his comedy roles, and yet in 2002 he took the part of Sy Parrish and is barely recognisable behind a pair of wire glasses, a short blond haircut, and a seemingly friendly exterior.
So how can the voice of the Genie in Aladdin be sinister??
Naturally I’m going to tell you…
Seymour "Sy" Parrish (Robin Williams) is a mini-lab photo technician who works in SavMart’s one hour photo kiosk in suburban Los Angeles. Outside of work he is isolated, and living a depressing and lonely life. He works tirelessly to make sure that his customers have the best possible quality photographs as he believes that each picture captures a happy moment, a moment that people wish to preserve. People only capture enjoyable moments and so pictures are happy times that his customers want to remember, therefore, they should be as beautiful as possible.
Amongst his most regular customers are Yorkin family. Husband Will (Michael Vartan), wife Nina (Connie Nielsen), and their only child Jake (Dylan Smith). Over the years they have been getting their photos developed at his kiosk, Sy has been watching the family through their photographs and has become obsessed with their happiness and affluence. He believes them to be perfect and the ideal family living the American Dream. He stalks them and secretly makes copies of all of their photos which he hangs on his wall of his apartment. He fanaticises about being a member of their perfect family and being a part of their obvious happiness he witnesses in their photos.
Sy’s world is shattered and his behaviour becomes increasingly unstable after he discovers that Will is having an affair and his view of the ‘perfect’ family is destroyed. His obsession becomes more dangerous as he targets Will, a man Sy believes has everything he could possibly desire whilst he [Sy] has nothing aside from his job, and yet Will does not care about his loving wife or child.
Like I said earlier, fans of Robin Williams will probably be familiar with him from comedy films like Mrs Doubtfire and Jack, and also providing the voice for the Genie in Aladdin or even Batty in Ferngully. However, in One Hour Photo he is almost unrecognisable. There is nothing funny about his portrayal of the lonely and obsessed Sy who lives to see more photos of his perfect family.
Writer and Director Mark Romanek is able to get a fantastic performance from Williams, but he also creates a terrifying situation from the mundane. Everybody has taken photographs to a developers, and it is unlikely that the thought that the person developing those pictures might be seeing into an idyllic life. A life that they would envy. Someone with an obsession is a very dangerous person, and Romanek shows how Sy came to be obsessed with a family who have everything that he desires yet cannot have. He tries to bring himself into their lives, noting in the pictures that Nina is reading a book in one of them so he buys the same book and “bumps” into her, has a brief conversation, before sitting down and opening the same book she was reading. He wants the family to see him as more than “Sy the Photo Guy” but naturally to them he is just the friendly man who works at the photo developing kiosk and think no more of him than that.
Jake believes that Sy is sad and his mother is touched by his concern. However she assures him that Sy is probably very happy with a wife or girlfriend, and it is likely that has lots of friends outside of his job. Nina views Sy as being the guy who works at the mini-lab and is perfectly happy to chat to him whilst she is dropping off a film but aside from that he doesn’t cross her mind any more than a thousand other people she encounters in her day to day life.
Williams is very creepy as Sy and shows that his obsession has consumed his life. His mannerisms are all sinister with him maintaining a thin smile even as his obsession begins to spiral increasingly out of control. The Yorkin Family represent everything that he wants, and seem to be happy together. Later as One Hour Photo develops he becomes determined to destroy Will Yorkin for engaging in an affair and risking everything that he is so fortunate to have.
This is a film in which you have to shed the view that Williams is going to be tongue-in-cheek or is going to do something wacky or funny. This is about as far from the roles that he usually did as it is possible to go, and One Hour Photo shows just how versatile an actor he was.
We all lost something when Robin Williams took his own life, however, films like One Hour Photo serve to remind us why his death was such a tragedy. You could argue that maybe this film was showing us more about Robin Williams’ own personal demons than any other role he took…or maybe I am reading too much into it. Still, whatever was happening within the mind of that great man and legend of Hollywood you cannot deny if you watch it that this is a sensational film and one that needs to be seen so it can be appreciated.
One Hour Photo naturally receives a Thumbs Up because it is a creepy, atmospheric, and a very twisted tale about an individual that spends his life going unnoticed by those around him leaving him very isolated and incredibly lonely. I think you’ll agrees that is something that all of us have felt like at one time or another in our lives on this planet.
9/10 - One Hour Photo is a tense thriller in which Williams delivers a very unnerving performance. If you find the idea of stalkers or people that became obsessed with others as interesting as I do then you owe it to yourself to check this out. Plus anyone who wants to see how great Robin Williams was, then you too need to track down One Hour Photo and see for yourself why he was a legend of Hollywood.