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Seize the Day

1 rating: 5.0
A movie directed by Fielder Cook

A salesman who has lost his girlfriend, his job and much of his sanity struggles to begin anew in New York. This is, to date, the only film based on a work by acclaimed author Saul Bellow.

Director: Fielder Cook
Release Date: 1986
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Seize the Day

carpe diem 1986 w/Robin Williams

  • Feb 14, 2005
Pros: ~*bang, bang*~ Robin Williams nailed this one

Cons: none

The Bottom Line: Outstanding character study

This rare look into the every day life of salesman, Tommy Wilhelm, played by Robin Williams, reminded me a great deal of Falling Down. In fact, as the movie started, I wondered if this was the original prototype of that movie.

Tommy Wilhelm is 40ish, a salesman for a baby furniture company. This was back in the times when sales reps actually called on the client with goods in their vehicles, samples. Sometimes the salesman would be gone for weeks at a time, covering his extensive territory, soliciting accounts and looking toward that big promotion in the sky.

Such a promotion had been hinted at for Tommy, a successful salesman, but when the owners nephew comes to the company, Tommy is looked over. Just one more bad time to befall him.

He is separated from his wife, a wheedling wench looking only for her $$$ from Tommy, and two sons. He is still supporting his family, keeping them up in a nice home and private schools. He lives in a hotel in NY when he is back at home base. Otherwise, he stays in flea bag hotels around the country.

Tommy has a girlfriend in Connecticut. A nice Catholic girl that wonders when Tommy is going to actually divorce his wife so their life can get under way.

His father is a successful doctor in NY and laments the fact that Tommy never followed in his footsteps. Tommy didn’t have the skills to become a doctor, besides he is a wanderlust at heart. Daddy is tight with his purse strings, and most importantly, with his heart. He has never referred to Tommy as ‘son’ but always by his first name, which isn’t Tommy at all. Tommy had dreams of becoming an actor and this is the name he adopted for the screen. That didn’t work out but he kept the name.

His beat up old woodie station wagon has seen better days, but Tommy loves his job.

Until that day, when all went bad, and Tommy lost control of his life.

This is a fine representation of the human condition and the feeling of abject defeat in life. At every portal he faces, Tommy is met with obstacles, many of his own making. He doesn’t want any more than what the rest of us want, a feeling of acceptance and security. As a lot of us do, he falls under the spell of various scams to generate money. He is easily swayed because all he truly wants to a little financial independence. The problem with that theory, like in life, it takes money to make money. If you use money that you need to try to make money, then you are losing from the beginning.

Seize the Day was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in Drama at the Sundance Film Festival. It was directed by Fielder Cook, writing by Ronald Ribman from the novel by Saul Bellow.

Although there were several characters in this movie, the main focus was on Tommy, his father, and Dr. Tamkin.

Joseph Wiseman played the part of Dr. Adler, Tommy’s father. I think they must have searched to find the correct physical persona for this character. His demeanor and physical attributes simply exuded penny-pinching, cold-hearted, insufferable person. This was a great casting choice. You felt no sympathy or empathy for this empty man, in fact felt great distaste for him.

One of my least favorite people, Jerry Stiller, was Dr. Tamkin. Again, great casting. He came off as the sleazy snake he was portraying. A nasty, dirty, greasy old fool, full of bullshitattitudes and platitudes. I’ve never liked him in anything I’ve seen and he pulled this one right out of the hat. As much as I dislike him, he was Dr. Tamkin to the tee.

And, finally, Tommy Wilhelm, played by Robin Williams. Robin is one of those characters that completely surprise you when they step out of the mold. You so often see him in such comedic pose you forget he carries a great dramatic sense. Perhaps it is because of his comedy he can feel the tragedy. He took this part, lived inside it, nailed it, delivered it. His mannerisms throughout seemed quirky, jumpy, needy. You truly believed he was this character.

This movie came out just a couple of years after his Mork and Mindy TV show, I would image it was a great surprise to those that saw it then. As well, I would imagine that the producers and directors were a tad bit hesitant casting him, thinking how can this na-nu na-nu idiot pull off this dramatic character. I’m sure they must have been pleased with the end result.

This is a gritty little movie, like most independent films tend to be. It goes from the opulence of Turkish baths and massages to dirty little hotel rooms where hunched figures hover over poker games for a couple of bucks, drinking straight whiskey and smoking like fiends. It pokes and prods inside characters, bringing out their best and worst sides, giving you a glimpse into desperation.

Did I like it? Would I recommend it? Hell yeah. I’m giving it one of my rare 5-star ratings. Get thee out and find this, I got it from NetFlix.



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