The Angriest Man in Brooklyn begins with images of Robin Williams‘ character’s picturesque family life in 1989, the kind of “parents and children gleefully frolicking in the park” scenes that are presented in soft focus and appear to be so wonderful that you know bad things will happen. The movie immediately jumps to 25 years later to Henry Altmann (Williams) sitting in traffic with a huge scowl on his face. His voiceover narrates how miserable he is with his life and how today in particular is one of the worst days of his life.
Also having the worst day of her life is Dr. Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis), a lonely, pill-popping, doctor just out of med school who is way in over her head as she is filling in for Henry’s regular doctor. Henry is on the way to the hospital to get results for a brain scan that he had because of his recent terrible headaches. This is when these two miserable people cross paths… but only after Sharon makes Henry wait over two hours in the waiting room. Because of that, and the awful news that he has a brain aneurysm, Henry explodes at Sharon, demanding to know how long he has to live. Instead of sticking with her initial “you need to speak to a specialist about that” answer, an exasperated Sharon looks at a housekeeping magazine and tells Henry the number she sees on the cover: 90 minutes (referring to how long to cook a turkey breast). Henry furiously bolts from the hospital, unsure how to spend the final 90 minutes of life.
Henry tries to make amends with his wife Bette (Melissa Leo), whom he has treated poorly, and estranged son Tommy (Hamish Linklater), whom he pushed away because Tommy decided to become a professional dancer instead of a lawyer like Henry and his brother, Aaron (Peter Dinklage), are. All of these personal issues stem from Henry’s eldest son dying in a hunting accident two years before, and it’s obvious that Henry’s constant anger is the result of that, except Henry is the only person who doesn’t seem to realize that.
From that description I doubt you could guess if the film is a comedy, drama, black comedy, melodrama, or a mix of these genres. The truth is, the movie itself doesn’t seem quite sure either. Based on his previous movies I’m sure you can imagine Williams walking around Brooklyn and shouting various obscenities. While that concept in itself is funny, that’s not the whole movie. It seems like this movie is trying to pull at our heartstrings, tickle our funny bones, and have us wince uncomfortably at some of the bleaker humor all at the same time. It ends up pulling the audience in too many directions with a tone that changes at a moment’s notice. Hearing Robin Williams shout “fuck” a lot isn’t as funny or shocking as the filmmakers seem to think it is, and nor is a Robin Williams comedy turning into a melodrama by the conclusion a surprise (hell, even Mrs. Doubtfire does that).
It ends up too saccharine to be considered a black comedy — and if you want to see Williams in a black comedy, 2009’s World’s Greatest Dad knocked it out of the park and is probably still the best film he has made in the last decade — but too vitriolic to be considered feel-good by most audiences. On top of this, it’s hard to believe that these characters would act this way. How did an emotional disaster like Sharon ever make it through med school? Why does Henry push his son away for wanting to be a dancer when nearly every flashback demonstrates that Henry has a love for dance and introduced his son to it? Why do people that Henry mistreated for years forgive him for being an angry jerk simply because he thinks he’s dying? Why do movies like this always have friendly, almost-clairvoyant homeless people? Why are there barely any customers at the always-packed Junior’s? How does Henry manage to move all over Brooklyn in a span of 90 minutes? What purpose does Dinklage’s character play in this movie?
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is a remake of the 1997 Israeli film Mar Baum written and directed by the recently deceased Assi Dayan. However, I’m not sure what director Phil Alden Robinson — who is best known for directing Field of Dreams but hasn’t directed a film since 2002’s The Sum of All Fears — saw in this script that made him want to come out of semi-retirement.
There are a few cameos which I won’t spoil, but the problem with funny actors doing very small roles in a movie is that you wish they were in it more. In the case of The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, they might want their cameoes to stay secret.
Rating: Would’ve been better if the filmmakers could figure out what type of movie this is supposed to be (3.5/10).