In general, messages in movies are not a good idea.
Unless that message is "robots are cool" or "everyone in this audience deserves free donuts," people usually don't appreciate being told how to think or act.
You can break this rule pretty easily, though. All you have to do is be at least a little subtle and to distract us with other stuff. In what is becoming an unfortunate recurring feature of this column, 1991's The Fisher Kingaccomplishes the latter with a little good ol' fashioned naked Robin Williams.
After the advice of morning shock-jock Jeff Bridges drives a man to a murderous shooting spree, Bridges' life falls apart. Three years later, as he drunkenly attempts suicide, he's attacked by thugs--and rescued by Robin Williams, who became a crazy homeless man after his wife died in the shootings.
All the makings for the upbeat comedy of the year! And if you think that's funny, just wait for the hyper-violence flashback in which Williams is painted with his wife's brains. Despite scenes like this, The Fisher Kingis legitimately billed as a comedy-drama, largely because those poor bygone fools of 1991 hadn't yet invented the term "dramedy." Lack of that little time-saver is no doubt why our cars still don't have wings.
Yet The Fisher Kingdoesn't really play like your normal dramedy. Or your average movie, for that matter. Tonally, it's as off-kilter as its many skewed shots, shifting in a blink to nightmares of looming red knights and fantasies of a packed Grand Central Station suddenly bursting into waltz.
Which I explain with "director Terry Gilliam," to which you respond "That's not a sentence, but say no more." Which I silently decide is kind of a rude thing to say, isn't it? In any event, Gilliam's grimy, overstuffed cityscapes and loudly crazy people sometimes threatens to undermine the reality of Bridges' despair.
It's saved by the performances of its leads and by Bridges' put-upon girlfriend Mercedes Ruehl.
They're all great, but Bridges may be best of all, because no matter how despicable his behavior, you still can't hate Jeff Bridges. That would be like hating Old Yeller. You know what your girlfriend would do if she found out you hated Old Yeller? Shoot you, probably.
These performances, along with writer Richard LaGravenese's unusually-plotted script, help humanize what could be a very trite story about the joy and moral lessons we could all learn from our local filthy, whacked-out bums. By the time Bridges works his way back up from the depths, The Fisher Kinghas earned its triumph.