Robin Williams in an awkward looking robot costume on a 200 year journey to become considered as a human being? How bad it could it be? Well it turns out it’s actually pretty bad, but that doesn’t stop me from not only owning it on DVD but also revisiting it at least twice a year. A good jumping off point for this new feature-ish thing I think.
What It’s About
The Martin family (which includes Grant from Jurassic Park and the Pepsi Girl from the 90’s) decide to get a robot (Robin Williams) to do all their chores. Naming him Andrew, it soon becomes apparent that he’s meant for much more; unlike other robots on the market, he’s capable of creative thinking as well as emotions. Instead of having him destroyed, the Martin family “free” him so he can go on an odyssey to find others of his kind. Over the next 200 years (and two hours plus running time), Andrew’s journey takes him on an adventure into actually becoming human, thanks to the love of a woman (Embeth Davidtz) and a cooky human inventor friend (Oliver Platt).
Why It’s Bad
Bicentennial Man ranks pretty high on my list of “lamest movies I have ever seen”; it’s so sweet and earnest that it sometimes gets overbearing. Not only that, but the moments of humor are on the whole not very funny and eye-roll inducing. Then there’s Williams’ robot suit that he’s in for the first 1/3rd of the movie; simply put, it looks plastic, cheap, and not real in the slightest (who the hell would make a robot that looked like Robin Williams?). And for those with short attention spans, Bicentennial Man can be a real drag to get through; the first 30 minutes or so are insanely slooooow to where even I end up skipping through a big chunk of it when I watch it on DVD or TV. So yes, there’s a lot of reasons why Bicentennial Man is not the greatest movie on the planet.
Why I Like It Anyway
Awkward script and cheesy premise be damned, Robin Williams really acts the hell out of the movie, trying to turn Bicentennial Man into something special. On the whole, he really succeeds; the man is a damn fine dramatic actor and he gives a wonderful and deep performance as Andrew, even when he’s forced to do robot things (monotone speaking, not understanding humans at first, unfunny jokes). Towards the end, as Andrew becomes more human (spoiler?), that’s when he kicks it up another notch and manages to deliver two monologues that would have fallen flat if anyone else had inhabited the role. Was he miscast? Probably. Does he make it work anyway? That’s a 10-4.
There are other great performances in Bicentennial Man as well, which may be hard to believe. Sam Neill, playing the patriarch of the Martin clan, has some tremendous moments in a small role; in particular, the scene where he makes Andrew play back the wedding dance of his youngest daughter. His mixture of happiness for his daughter and sadness at how quick life truly is makes for some powerful stuff. On the other end of the spectrum of emotions Oliver Platt delivers some much needed comedic relief, the only character who truly gets laughs from the audience. It’s also somewhat of a small role, but he’s got great rapport with Williams that create chuckles and he’s just fun to watch on-screen as he slowly invents the new technology that makes Andrew more human. Speaking of the technology, Bicentennial Man also grabs me on a visual level; I’m a sucker for both robots and futuristic settings so putting both together will pique my interest no matter how bad the movie is (as my DVD of I, Robot can attest to). It’s fun to watch how the world changes as Andrew continues his journey.
Overall though, the story of Bicentennial Man really just drags me in every single time I watch it, completely getting me invested in the character of Andrew and his journey to become what we take for granted. Watching him look for others like him but failing, falling in love and saying goodbye to dying loved ones, and eventually finding true love and happiness just works for me on a level that I can’t explain to you (and neither can my friends who have also seen the movie and don’t get why the hell I like it so much). I have to watch it until the very end, which is cheesy as hell but actually satisfying, no matter what whenever it’s on. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. I can’t recommend Bicentennial Man to anyone really, but I refuse to deny that I border on loving it.
1. My family and I saw this on Christmas Day, and I was the only one of us who stayed awake for the whole thing. I even think the theater fell asleep. I blame the marketing personally; it was played off like a farcical romp about a robot doing robot things, but if you’ve seen it you know that’s really not the case. At all. Seriously.
2. I made a promise to myself to write something about Bicentennial Man on every outlet I write for (including all three of my sites, which I did). Watch out The Film Stage and Man, I Love Films your time is coming!