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I think I may have missed the boat in patenting Sy the Photo Guy bobble-heads. In ONE HOUR PHOTO, Robin Williams looks very much like the annoying knick-knack. His character also supplies the iconography. Sure, he'll be a memorable film psycho, but he could also be a mascot for disgruntled workers and people with Deep Dark Secrets across the country. I would have made a fortune.
Sy Parrish (Williams) is the man in charge of the photo center at the local SavMart, a store of almost unsettling convenience bleached in harsh, white light. He takes a lot of pride in his work. Film has an odd history of how they treat people who take a lot of pride in their work. Typically, in more old-fashioned fields, the person is painted as salt of the earth. The closer we get to convenience and technology, the more they become a bit more of a wackjob. As just about everyone knows, Sy fits into the latter category.
Taking pride in building a home or office would make you the next Frank Lloyd Wright. Taking pride in something like running a copy machine would make you the next Cliff Claven. Or in the case of Sy, the next Norman Bates.
He takes great pride in giving people the best family photos possible. He sees the family photo as something sacred, an eternal reminder of the inseparable bond between families in the best of times. One family in particular has retained his interest for several years now.
The Yorkins seem like the perfect family. They are so picturesque and sweet in their photos that they remind us of the posed family that comes in the picture frames we buy for our desks. They are the Beautiful American Family in all their glory.
Sy always makes copies for the Yorkins, as well as a set for himself. Sy has created a wall made up of copies he has made of their pictures. He looks on it with the pride of a family member at times and with the smugness of a puppet master at others. In the Yorkins, he sees everything missing from his own life. Maybe by incorporating himself into developing their film, he is incorporating himself into their lives. He is content to like vicariously through the Yorkins.
His outside world begins to cave in, thanks to having absolutely no social outlets. It doesn't help that his boss (Gary Cole - AMERICAN GOTHIC, THE GIFT) constantly watches him like a slavemaster from his office window.
Of course, Sy is doomed to be disappointed in the Yorkins, because perfect families don't exist. It's the great Norman Rockwell fraud that disappeared a few decades ago, something people have been trying in vain to achieve again. Sy screams at one of his subjects, ?Pretend! This is all pretend!? It?s a shocking realization and it is when Sy sets his plan in motion.
ONE HOUR PHOTO takes the chance of having us casually observe Sy's behavior throughout the film, never straying far from his empty little world. It would be easy to show a Perfect Family being terrorized by a pathetic outsider, like in THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, for example. Instead, we get just enough glimpses of the Yorkins to know that all is not right in Wonderland. In the meantime, we see Sy's obsession turn deadly (What would have been a tasteless bathroom joke in another film becomes a cringe-worthy invasion of privacy here.).
It also gives us a chance to sympathize with Sy as we fear him. His pathos originates not from insanity after all, but depression, isolation and most of all, loneliness. And that's more common to the human condition than most will ever admit outside of a therapy session.
In this claustrophobic part, Williams does a great job. It's the third psycho he played in 2002, part of a career overhaul that included DEATH TO SMOOCHY and INSOMNIA Each one has been a little different. In SMOOCHY, he was manic and desperate. In INSOMNIA, calculating and cruel. For lack of a better term, ONE HOUR PHOTO presents the most human screen psycho we've had in quite some time.
The pacing stumbles a little early on in Williams' unnecessary narration. He maps out his obsession with family photos. "No one ever takes a picture of something they'd like to forget," he says. While a good line, it drops the hat a little too quickly and we have to backtrack before we can get into the motion of Sy's slow decline from pained obsession into panicked determination.
Otherwise, director Marc Romanek paints a truly memorable and frightening tapestry of America according to the maladjusted. Romanek decides on a tone that is muted to the point that the tension is almost unbearable in some scenes. It's a wise decision to fall back and let the creepy negative space take care of itself. Romanek has been making some groundbreaking and high-budget music videos for years. He has alternately handled duties for Madonna and Nine Inch Nails, so this style is as much a surprise as it is a success. Unlike many music video directors who have taken the same ethic from a 3 minute song into a two hour movie, Romanek has a good eye for what fits where. I am optimistic enough to believe Romanek has what it takes to become a fantastic filmmaker.
ONE HOUR PHOTO is not a slasher film. It moves intentionally slow as Sy's mind begins to lose what little footing on reality it had. It is an engrossing piece that manages to be relevant to the world around us. And if nothing else, it teaches an important lesson on how to deal with those who work for our convenience: be kind.