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Monday, March 10, 2014

'The World According to Garp' DVD: Perfect Blend of John Irving Wit and Early Robin Williams Charm

The World According To Garp
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1982 genuine dramedy "The World According to Garp" particularly earns the status of "gift" that Unreal TV often bestows on Archive titles. "Garp" originally being issued on DVD in April 2001 but being discontinued before its time makes this release very exciting.

It is also a less rare case in which conscious intending to keep spoilers to a minimum is designed to avoid ruining the glee of discovering the contents of the numerous presents that author John Irving and those who made the film place in "Garp."

The following clip of a non-essential scene, courtesy of YouTube wonderfully conveys the offbeat charm of the film that makes enjoying its surprises so important.




This film adaptation of the 1978 Irving novel of the same name expertly retains the wit and charm of the source material. Much of this is due to star Robin Williams curbing much of his "crazy one" persona to portray an eccentric, rather than a lunatic.

Williams also nicely contributes his own brand of humor in scenes such as one in which Garp's mother Jenny Fields, terrifically played by Glenn Close, asks him if a woman whom they see on a New York street is wearing the latest fashion; the response of late teens Garp is "no, that's the oldest profession" is much more Williams than Irving.

The film soon returns to Irving territory by having Jenny pay the prostitute, expertly played by Swoosie Kurtz, to speak with her and Garp. This leading to Jenny indiscreetly compensating said nameless prostitute to show Garp a good time fully restores this Irving vibe. This is not to mention the Irving trademarks of wrestling being a fairly common theme in the film and bears making an appearance.

Director George Roy Hill, who also made "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting" so awesome, starts the wonderful Irving quirkiness during opening credits that feature an air-borne infant Garp.

The opening scenes in 1944 establish that Jenny's desire to have a child but not a relationship with a man prompts her to surreptitiously siphon baby batter from a vegetative WWII fighter pilot and obtain a "good" rating in response. Said stud dies with a smile on his face.

These early scenes are equally awesome regarding casting married true screen legends Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as Jenny's parents who are as loving toward each other and as WASPy as the "old fart" and his spouse with the home on Golden Pond.

The film then largely focuses on Jenny's assertive interaction with horny and embarrassed tween and adolescent students in her role as the nurse of an all-boys school. Close does an awesome job portraying Jenny's assertive (but mostly kind) approach to caring for the boys even when doing so results in seeing them naked. One spoiler is that no bunnies, real or artificial, are harmed in the making of this film.

Garp begins taking center-stage in his teen years at said academy and becomes the focus of the film by the time that he is a young father working as a novelist. Williams' portrayal of Garp during this period makes him a close second to Bill Bixby's Tom Corbett of the previously reviewed "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" as the fictional dad most of us would want to raise us.

Meanwhile, Jenny has turned the gorgeous large coastal home that she inherits from her parents into a sanitarium for traumatized and otherwise damaged (mostly) women who need time away from the real world. These include Roberta, superbly played by John Lithgow, a former professional football player who had a sex change operation.

Lithgow's numerous strong contributions to the film include perfect interaction with Williams, a brief but memorable return to his football player persona, and one of the best lines of the film.

In discussing a character who (in the awesome spirit of Irving) has his penis bitten off, Lithgow amusing refers to his experience of having his penis surgically removed as being more pleasant. The fact that said involuntary amputee is a dickless cad to begin with makes this scene that much funnier.

More general themes that make Irving a personal hero include the evils of any form of even well-intentioned fanaticism, the nearly impossible task of getting parents and children to understand each other, and the desires to recapture the joys of youth and to honor those who make those times so special.

The only proper way to wrap up this review is to share a very special true story regarding Irving.

Irving was a guest/contestant on the weekly National Public Radio news quiz program "Wait  Wait, Don't Tell Me." Irving's difficulty with the game prompted host Peter Sagal to blatantly spoon feed him the answers.

Irving jokingly asked at the end of his segment if Sagal made it that easy for every guest. Sagal replied with complete sincerity that he only did it for people he idolized. We hear ya, Brother.

This story also provides an opportunity to state a very sincere "thanks for the memories" regarding the announcement on last weekend's episode of "Wait" that co-host Carl Castle is retiring after 60 years in journalism and participation in all 30 years of "Wait." The better news is that chances remain to have Castle record the outgoing message on the voice mails or answering machines of DVD reviewers and other fans.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Garp" or Irving is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.