Today! Because I’m hearing horses! Parry will be so pleased –
The Fisher King (1991)
Directed by Terry Gilliam (x2)
Starring Robin Williams (x3), Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl (x2), Amanda Plummer, Michael Jeter (x2), Harry Shearer (x3), Kathy Najimy (x2), David Hyde Pierce (x2), Tom Waits (x2), Carlos Carrasco, John de Lancie (x2)
Ah, comedies about mental illness! It’s a weird sweet spot to have, but its popping up over (#393 The Dream Team) and over (#193 They Might Be Giants) and over again (#286 Me, Myself and Irene) on this list means that it might be time to face facts – this is weirdly something I’m into. Now, The Fisher King is only sort of a comedy – that much is pretty definitely true. While all the aforementioned movies lean heavier on the laughs (okay, maybe not They Might Be Giants as much), if this one didn’t have Robin Williams at his manic zenith you’d be hard pressed to classify it as even kinda funny. Bridges’ asshole shock jock Jack tumbles mightily when one of his radio show callers goes on a shooting spree, and descends into alcoholic hell. Williams – a victim of this same gunman incident – emerges as a crazed homeless knight named Parry, and they progressively help each other, largely without knowing it, at least until the time comes to retrieve the Holy Grail on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
This movie might be the best total use of Williams’ gifts as an actor. He certainly was in funnier roles, and he took mighty swings at more dramatic ones, especially later in his career, but the hybrid here of his jittery, scatterbrained comedy and tremendous pathos are extraordinary, and embody a character in which it totally makes sense. Really, with anyone else in the part the movie may have functioned as a sweet, sad study of PTSD and the plight of the homeless, but Williams elevates the entire tone to almost-comedy – as much as stepping back from the whole thing can give you a sort of harrowing look at everyone’s damaged psyches, locked into the kinda fun plot about grail quests and first dates, you enjoy the story far more than you probably should. It’s a pure Gilliam pseudo-fantasy, while not resembling virtually any other movie.
Bridges has the thankless task of playing the worst character in the film, but at least he gets an arc to follow. Mercedes Ruehl won an Oscar for her work as Jack’s long suffering video store owner girlfriend Anne, and Amanda Plummer is terrific as the wallflower object of Parry’s affection Lydia. But movie MVP – among many wild and wacky supporting characters to choose from – has to be Michael Jeter’s amazing homeless cabaret singer.
Fisher King grabbed five Oscar nominations, including Actor for Williams, Screenplay, Score, and Art Direction, with only Ruehl’s win, while also nabbing five Globe nominations, Best Picture Musical or Comedy, Director, Actor for Bridges and Williams, and Supporting Actress, with Williams and Ruehl taking home the awards. No awards were given for Best Supporting Pinocchio, however, even though it factors hugely into the plot.
This is (spoiler alert) Terry Gilliam’s first Holy Grail related quest film to make the list, and his second overall so far, following #163 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There are a ton of new Two-Timers, but it’s Williams (#365 Popeye, #341 Good Morning, Vietnam) and Harry Shearer (#234 The Simpsons Movie, #181 A League of Their Own) making the greatest strides to join the Threes! Spotlight!