Jeff Bridges stars as Jack, a shock radio host who inadvertently encourages a mad man to go on a killing spree. Guilt ridden, he teeters on the brink of self-annihilation before an eccentric homeless person named Parry (Robin Williams) helps him see the light. At its heart, The Fisher King is a reluctant buddy movie, but it’s so much more.
The Oscar-nominated script by Richard LaGravenese also includes interesting romantic entanglements for both leading men — and when I say ‘interesting,’ keep in mind that I hate romantic comedies. Mercedes Ruehl won a richly-deserved Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Anne, Jack’s long-suffering, sweet but volatile girlfriend. Jack and Anne’s rocky relationship makes for a handful of juicy scenes between Bridges and Ruehl, all of which are counterbalanced by the film’s other romantic relationship between Parry and Lydia, an awkward office worker who couldn’t be more uncomfortable in her own skin. Lydia is played by Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction), who gives what I consider the film’s second greatest performance. Watching Parry and Lydia overcome their supreme shyness and clumsiness to make a genuine human connection is one of The Fisher King‘s shining achievements. All other rom-com’s can eat their pansy-ass hearts out, because when Robin Williams tells Amanda Plummer how beautiful she is, just try not to cry. Screenwriter LaGravenese manages a rare fete with this film — making the trite sincere and giving depth to quirky characters who, in lesser hands, might have remained little more than caricatures.
And I haven’t even mentioned that this movie is directed by one our greatest living visionaries, Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys). While The Fisher King may be his most ‘grounded’ and realistic film to date, his signature is still very much evident — in the madcap comedy, the visual grandeur, and his uncanny ability to make the average everyday world into something mythic and whimsical. Cinematic highlights include nightmarish visions of Parry’s imaginary nemesis, the Red Knight, charging through flames on a dark horse through the streets of New York. And in another poetic sequence, the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station slows to a crawl and transforms into a grand ballroom dance.
With its amazing script, singular direction, and powerhouse performances, The Fisher King is one of the most magical cinematic experiences of the ’90s. With Michael Jeter, David Hyde Pierce, Kathy Najimy, and Tom Waits.
Academy Award: Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes Ruehl)
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Robin Williams), Best Art Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Score