14. The World According To Garp (1982)
A strange film that moved acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert to ask: “What was that all about?”
It’s kind of a miracle that John Irving’s serio-comic novel about the endless series of misfortunes – and occasional joys – that befall one man somehow managed to make it to the screen without turning into a bleak recitation of tragedy.
At least some of that credit goes to Williams, who as the lead brings just the right amount of quizzical innocence to the part.
In a lot of ways, Garp is a movie in which Williams is systematically confined. At first we see him pigeon-walking, fresh in his prep-school blazer, doing stomach-crunches in his sweats while explaining to Helen (Mary Beth Hurt) that his initials—T.S.—stand for “terribly sexy.”
Williams was already over 30 here, but he’s a natural teenager, permanently carbonated, always about to jump for joy and possibly hurt someone in the process. And like Garp, he grew up a wrestler—someone used to demonstrating his power in short, combustible fits.
At one point, Garp tackles a dog to the ground and bites its ear off; at another, he bats out the headlights of a reckless driver tearing through their neighborhood. As the actor became more and more of a comic persona, his observant, somewhat passive performance in this film seemed like more and more of an anomaly.
But watch it again, and you’ll see sadness and levity intertwined in a way that informed so much of his career.