Rain Man (1988)

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Sighs…this was disappointing. Admittedly, I probably had my expectations too high up, since the movie a) won the best picture Oscar and b) it contains Dustin freaking Hoffman. But ultimately, the whole thing was underwhelming to me. I might even go on and add that this is probably one of the weakest best picture winners that I’ve watched so far (last time I watched Crash was when it was released in 2005, so I can’t really remember it).

If you are unfamiliar with Rain Man, the story is basically about this selfish yuppie, Charlie Babbitt, who learns that he actually has a brother Raymond. The discovery came about when Charlie’s estranged father decided to bequeath his wealth to Raymond and leave Charlie penniless after his death. Things get a little more tricky, however, upon the discovery that Raymond is also an autistic savant.

The first problem I had with this movie was the unlikely premise. Seriously? He couldn’t get the money, so he decided to kidnap his brother from the institution and tries to gain custody over him? Because…why not? If you ask me, the whole set up sounds like a rather lame excuse to make Charlie bring Raymond on a road trip and of course, develop some brotherly love along the way, since movie road trips are like the miracle medicines for all family disputes. I’d love to try that too, except that over here in tiny Singapore, our island is only 42km in length and not to mention we are filled with ERP gantries, traffic lights and traffic congestion all over the place.

Of course, the main strength in the movie lies in how Charlie develops feelings for Raymond. I guess, the idea here was to show that Charlie has transformed from a selfish brat to a loving brother. Feel free to disagree, but I didn’t see that at all. The storytelling of the whole film was fundamentally flawed, if you ask me, and instead of properly developing the relationship between the two, we are thrown with various useless scenes that may have been intended to be humorous (Kmart, uh-ohs, gotta watch wapner, farting in phone booths), but didn’t quite work out for me. The problem is this: For a good, I’d say 85% of their time together, we see Charlie being perpetually annoyed by Raymond’s behavior and mannerisms. Then you get the next 10% where he realized that Raymond is actually a human computer so guess what he did next? Did you say casino? And you’re right! He takes Raymond to the casino, exploits this ability of his and wins a lot of money. Along the way, Raymond, the guy whom the movie has being putting down as someone with zero social skills, suddenly felt an attraction towards some random lady called Iris (must be the magical casino air!), and decided that he wanted to learn dancing. And thus came the final 2.5%, where Charlie’s feelings towards Raymond changes (the power of money love, I guess) and decides to teach him, which turned out to be totally useless by the way. Of course earlier on, there was this 2.5% where they shared a tender moment in the bathroom (ok that sounds wrong) where Charlie discovered the truth behind “Rain Man”. It’s a bit of a lame realization, but if the movie actually focused more on this, I would have liked it a lot more.

As you can see, the motivation behind Charlie’s change of heart is extremely weak. The movie never even attempted to understand Raymond, but rather portray him as a weirdo human character with weird antics for comic relief. Also, I felt like Charlie never understood Raymond at all, and I didn’t think the chemistry between both actors were very strong in this aspect either. In the end, I just thought that he merely overcame his annoyance towards Raymond and maybe even found his endearing (??), but that’s about it. But love? The guy was still as selfish and self-entitled as before, if you ask me.

The direction is nothing special, and if you ask me the placement of the humorous scenes (the sex scene, the casino scene which was TOTALLY pointless) were questionable choices. The score is fine, but I didn’t think it fitted the tone of the film. Rain Man = Tribal? Hmm.

The female character, whatever her name is, is totally pointless. I have no idea what she was doing in the movie. She only appeared in the beginning and then towards the end. It didn’t help that the actress playing her was rather flat in her performance either. This was really quite a wasted opportunity to me, since I usually love the supportive girlfriend characters in movies. I know some people find them cliched, but I find that they serve as effective moral compasses for the main characters and are usually quite likable (Amy Adams in The Fighter). That was not the case here though. Thanks to the poor writing and acting, the character comes off as unnecessarily preachy, self-righteous and “holier-than-thou”. And of course, her big scene involved teaching Raymond how to kiss, which was awkward as hell. I guess that scene was meant to make me go “awww…”, but I totally went “ew wtf?” instead. She thought that she was doing Raymond a favor, but I totally thought otherwise.

Alright, before I make my next point, allow me to say that I worship Dustin Hoffman. I am by no means a hater, at all. I mean, just watching his performances in The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy (!!), Kramer vs Kramer, Tootsie…goodness. The guy is really one of the greatest film legends to me. However, I feel that how you respond to his performance here ultimately depends on what your own personal preferences are. If you read my previous posts, you know that I totally go for subtle acting, complex emotions, fiery emotions etc…mannerisms, accents, and all the other technical aspects are more of the secondary things that I consider. And that’s pretty much the case here. I was never really a fan of these “slow guys” performances, because usually the movies surrounding them are less than stellar (case in point), and that they totally rely on mannerisms. The characters don’t really have an emotional core to them, since they are pretty much living in their own worlds, and this essentially means that at the end of the day, you will either a) find them endearing or b) be annoyed to hell by them. The challenge here, which is admittedly a great one, is to not make it look like obvious acting. For the most part, Hoffman, being the method actor that he is, really succeeds. I know some people have criticized him as being very self aware here, but I felt like he was totally into it. I mean, just observe that vacant look in his eyes, and how consistent he was in his mannerisms lol. However, I felt like the movie was working against him. To begin with, it was never a very insightful look on how people live with autism and how their friends/families accept them as a part of their lives. Thus, I felt like I never cared about Raymond since he was portrayed as the movie’s idiot (how inoffensive) who is there to merely win us over with his oh-so-endearing mannerisms and super calculator mind. I even felt as annoyed by him as Charlie was…Still, I think Hoffman managed to deal with what was required of him very well, and even won his second Oscar for this performance. I guess I’m just not a fan of this performance, especially when I think about how they could have rewarded him for so many other performances instead of this one. Hmmm.

Tom Cruise was better than expected. I feel like playing such obnoxious characters is his forte LOL (Magnolia, The Color of Money etc). Still, he went much less over the top than I expected him to, and he even tried to add a touch of humanity to his character at the end, but unfortunately, I felt like the whole script just wasn’t working in his favor.

Is it me, or does the 80s seem to be a rather weak decade for films? I mean the 60s had Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, The Sound of Music, Hud, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Lion in Winter, Bonnie and Clyde and many many more classics. Even the 70s had The Godfather I and II, CHINATOWN, Cabaret, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, Network, Taxi Driver etc. And then suddenly in the 80s, it’s like the movies suddenly decided to go for the TV-movie styles (thanks a lot, James L. Brooks), with TERMS OF ENDEARMENT even winning best picture over The Year of Living Dangerously, which wasn’t even nominated. Only Amadeus and The Colour Purple were really iconic in my eyes. Then again, I haven’t watched a lot of films from this decade, so it may be too early for me to judge. Ok, I loved Ordinary People. Anyway, I’m not denying that it was, however, a phenomenal era for actresses because it was the period where the many greats like Meryl Streep, GLENN CLOSE, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek turned in their strongest works.

So to conclude about Rain Man…basically, I felt exactly like the guy evaluating Raymond at the end of the film, when he was listening to Charlie’s story about how he suddenly loved Raymond over the past 6 days. The film, like Charlie, wanted me to buy that. I couldn’t.

On a side note, weren’t Dangerous Liaisons and Mississippi Burning far worthier picks for best picture that year???

Update: I’m wondering whether I’m being a little too harsh here, because I really wrote nothing positive about the film. But I’d be lying if I say that I want to give it a rewatch though… :/

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