One Hour Photo
review by Paula Nechak, 23 August 2002

The beauty of Mark Romanek's second film, One Hour Photo, rests not in its subtle excoriation of the cluelessness of the privileged "I want" upper middle class, but in its right-on view of the forgotten, taken-for-granted faces who comprise everyday service life. Has our inability to "see" those who wait upon us daily, helping satiate our consumer lust and ensuring we have all we believe we need in our lives, spawned the sociopathy and envy that sates the media with news fodder on a day-to-day basis by culminating, usually, in a tragic encounter?  And so what if, as in the case of One Hour Photo, we blindly entrust these invisible souls with our private selves - whether contained in a roll of film, access to a bank account or the purchase of lingerie and sex toys?

Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) knows. He's a perfectionist at what he does. For eleven years he's been developing the film for the families of customers of the SavMart store. They manage slight greetings and forced smiles to this familar staple in their busy existences and yet they barely make eye contact while issuing demands upon his already pressed schedule.

But Sy has a secret - for nine years he's been fixated on the impossibly perfect Yorkins - beautiful mom Nina (Connie Nielsen), handsome dad Will (Michael Vartan) and precociously cute son Jakob (Dylan Smith). They've been bringing their film to Sy all that time, and he's seen this ideal family through the birth of their son, exotic vacations, birthday parties, Christmas dinner. And he has quietly made a copy of each of their photographs for his own family album - that which adorns the wall of the dismal, austere apartment in which he resides - alone and lonely.

The Yorkins never think of Sy as a threat. He's always impeccably polite and willing to bend to their demands. But lately Sy's fantasies have been getting the best of him. And when a frissoned crack appears in the Yorkin's marriage, and Sy is suddenly dealt his own blow, fantasy escalates and Sy feels compelled to correct the imperfections in the frames of this family's life that he has had such a part in preserving.

One Hour Photo is a taut, unnervingly quiet thriller. Romanek uses music sparingly and he's shot his film almost as if glimpsing it through a negative. There are stark whites, the touches of cyan and blue and red-yellow that compose a photograph, and in certain moments of stillness he cranks the volume on a phone ringing, to jarring, creepily effective ends.

The dread builds and builds  and the film works well as more than a thriller, too. It really peers at Sy's pathology - The Yorkins as well - and behind Nielsen's daunting allure and Vartan's boyish remoteness roosts a listless unhappiness.  But the film belongs to Robin Williams and, for one of the few times in his career, it allows the comic to transcend his formidable persona. Romanek collapses Williams' frenzied, over-inflated facade and creates a scarily sympathetic, prissy, pissed off and pathetic non-entity who blends into the woodwork  and yet cannot really be a part of it.

He's given Williams only a couple of eerily prescient comic seconds, and they are so weighted that they're perfectly relevant and meaningful within the context of what is happening around the character and within his own mind. Sy Parrish finds his place in the world only through The Yorkins' seemingly perfect one. But Sy's presence exposes more than their film and their marriage; he exposes the cracks in social bias and class, to a heightened, open ending in which time and perception cannot reverse itself.

Written and
Directed by:

Mark Romanek

Starring:
Robin Williams
Connie Nielsen
Michael Vartan
Gary Cole
Dylan Smith
Eriq La Salle
Erin Daniels

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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