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The World According To Garp
Your October 2008 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Robin Williams is Garp. He's got a funny way of looking at life.

Preshow Entertainment: Sixth Annual Young Comedians Show

Pizza: Pizza Guy



In 1976, when HBO was a puppy, they broadcast a stand-up comedy show called ON LOCATION, each episode featuring a different comedian. Some of them were old school even for 1976 (Shelley Berman, Totie Fields, Phyllis Diller, etc.), so it made sense that sooner or later HBO would get a "hip" replacement and skew young. A year later, they broadcast the SECOND ANNUAL YOUNG COMEDIANS SHOW. Oddly, I can't find any information on a first. Maybe that was the joke. Or maybe the FREDDIE PRINZE AND FRIENDS (including Jay Leno, Richard Belzer, Elayne Boozler) a year earlier was considered the first one.

Tonight we watched the SIXTH ANNUAL edition. If you rock at mathematics, you've already figured out it's from 1981. It was directed by Martin Calner, who in 30 years went from directing Myron Cohen to Chris Rock, and it was hosted by The Smothers Brothers who we coincidentally saw live just a few days ago. The show featured nearly all future a-listers, though at this point in time they were pretty unknown. So unknown that Dickie Smothers introduced him as "Jerry Steinfeld," though that too may have been a joke judging by Jerry's reaction. It was one of Jerry's first TV appearances, and...I remembered it! Okay, he may have done the same jokes on other shows, so I may have remembered the act from elsewhere. Okay okay, he definitely did the same jokes in lots of venues, for years, but come on, just let me believe I saw this show when it first aired. How's that going to change the world? I have to say, Seinfeld's "fattest man in the world" bit still makes me laugh ("1200 pounds? I mean, that guy really let himself go.").

The Brothers did a huge (maybe 20 minutes, let's see anyone do that today) hunk up top featuring one of their signature songs "Boil That Cabbage Down" and the "take it!" gag. Also on the show, Howie Mandel, Harry Anderson and an awful performance by Maureen Murphy (notice she's the only one that didn't go on to a series).


There's nothing I hate more in movies than ones that seem to say, "Let's make a really super quirky movie!" That's a byproduct, not a goal. Yet every now and then (like once a decade) a movie comes along that can pull off calculated quirkiness. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP is less of a plot-driven narrative than an offering of vignetted life lessons whilst floating in a world that borderlines fantasy. It's like an adult fairy tale where people are named Garp, Cushie and... Pooh. And best of all, like any fairy tale, it still smells fresh after so many years.

Baby Garp
When whoever started the showbiz maxim "Open Big" said it, director George Roy Hill was listening, for GARP has one of the most pleasing and joyous opening sequences. Sure, Indy had the boulder and SCANNERS had the exploding head, but how do you top a baby dribbling award-winning smiles as he is repeatedly tossed into frame in slo-mo to the incongruous "When I'm Sixty-Four"? See for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/bp7atz. Even W.C. Fields would crack a smile.

"Mork from Ork in a serious role?" was the cry of the day. And Robin as POPEYE didn't help. But GARP is a black comedy. So it's serious, sure, but it's brimming with humor. PATCH ADAMS didn't have that and it was supposed to.

Robin Williams plays T.S. Garp. If you ask him, the T.S. stands for Terribly Shy, then Terribly Sexy, and later, Terribly Sad. If you ask his mom, it stands for Technical Sergeant, in honor of the dying soldier that unwittingly impregnated her. And if you ask me it's a reference to T.S. Eliot, as Garp is an aspiring writer.

Dog's Head Harbor, New Hampshire, 1944. Single mom Jenny Fields (Glenn Close, her first movie!) is doing her best to raise her son Garp. But Jenny's philosophies on life are extreme, absolute and often wacky. It's no wonder Garp grows up a mix of enthusiasm and timidness, wonder and cluelessness. He's an imaginative little boy obsessed with planes. He wants to fly just like the dad he never met. His drawings come to life, drawings of...flying. He plays on the roof with a toy plane, and slips off. Yes, his quest to fly (a metaphor, he wants his life to take off and soar) just may kill him.

Garp and Helen (Mary Beth Hurt)
GARP isn't a movie with a major throughline. It's more like a fictional biography of a guy who sees the world on a slightly different axis-tilt than most (hence the title). While crystal clear on certain things, other moments blindside him. We never really know how he sees things until he tells us. But here's the thing: many of Garp's observations seem to make sense on some primal level. When his childhood encounter with the neighbor's dog, Bonkers, resulted in the dog biting his ear, grown-up Garp repays the debt years later by biting Bonker's ear. And when a plane (there's the flying theme again) crashes into a house a realtor is showing him, Garp, instead of walking away, takes the house ("The chances of another plane hitting the house are astronomical!"). Garp's got a giddy nonchalance in the way he deals with problems, which makes him a cock-eyed pragmatist. Maybe "prag" spelled backwards is no coincidence. A lot of Garp's world is backwards.

And so we follow T.S. Garp through his infancy, boyhood, teen years, marriage, children, and writing career. Some awful events occur; people get shot, others die in car crashes and penises get stuck in zippers or bitten off. Through it all Garp tries to remain an eager optimist.

Garp wants to become a writer because the girl he likes, Helen, wants to marry a writer. He wants to wrestle because he likes the helmet (like his dad's pilot helmet). And he wants to fly. Remember, as a newborn he was being tossed in the air.

Garp's life has an abnormal amount of wacky and exaggerated events...and characters. His mom Jenny, a nurse always dressed in virgin white who has never had any feeling for a man, becomes a super-successful writer, once again forcing Garp into her shadow. A girl named Pooh who has had it out for Garp from the time they were kids. Roberta, an ex-football player (John Lithgow) who is a transsexual. And then there's Garp himself, a man who wants a safe home so badly he marries a woman whose last name, Holm, is a homonym for "home."

Garp's over-protectiveness of his kids has washed onto him from his mom, as like all of us, he finds himself saying things to his children that his mom had once said to him. Lots of traits were handed down from Jenny, a woman with confident (sometimes logical, other times not) philosophies set in granite. Why, even prostitutes are unsure what to make of her - Prostitute (played by Swoosie Kurtz) to Garp: "Your mother's weird." Garp: "You can say that."

Glenn Close as Garp's mother, Jenny
Following Jenny's success, she turns her house, inherited from her parents (truly wonderful scenes with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy open the movie), into a safe harbor (it actually is a harbor) for, among others, the Ellen James Society. To show solidarity, Ellen Jamesians cut their own tongues out in protest of the rape of a girl, a radical act Garp can't seem to get his head around (though irony would later turn him into a temp Jamesian, writing with a pad because he is unable to speak).

Death plays a big part in Garp's life. It's foreshadowed throughout, from the Halloween death costume that hangs ominously on his kids' door to a monologue Jenny gives to Garp: "You know, everybody dies. My parents died. Your father died. Everybody dies. I'm going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure, having a life."

Near the end of the movie, we find Garp still wrestling with life, this time as a wrestling coach.

I've never read the book, but I have to give writers John Irving (book) and Steve Tesich (script) applause for creating such a fun and thought-provoking world within a world. Tesich had a wonderful grasp for non-movie dialogue, characters and situations, as witnessed in his too short career that included AMERICAN FLYER, FOUR FRIENDS, EYEWITNESS and BREAKING AWAY.

Director George Roy Hill only made a dozen or so films, but he sure knew how to knock it out of the park. Witness THE STING,

A family moment with Roberta, Jenny, Garp and his child
GARP is saturated with millions, no...billions of moments of crackling dialogue, meaningful looks (at times I think this could have been a silent movie), and (as mentioned before) a pitch perfect quirkiness. It has terrible moments, like murder, and wonderful moments like the way Garp wants to watch his kids while they sleep. And real moments, like when Helen walks away from him in anger, only to have Garp chase her and nearly get hit by a car. The way her human reaction of fearing for his safety made the angry moment vanish...brilliant.

Life is great. Life sucks. And everything in between. We all wrestle with it, and we all dream of soaring. But GARP proves again how our personalities and emotions rule us. They can make us live an entire lifetime in one day or can kill us like that. "It can be a real adventure, having a life." And Garp is a celebration of life. For better or worse. And in the end, Garp finally gets to fly.

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