One Hour Photo
Picture underdeveloped
By Rachel Deahl

“I’ve had a bad day. How ‘bout you, Hello Kitty?”

Turning in back-to-back performances as a psychopath, Robin Williams fills One Hour Photo with a heartfelt dose of desperation and loneliness. While Williams' bland performance as a sexually deviant mystery writer cum killer in Insomnia did little to improve upon director Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated, but slightly disappointing noir, the comic's performance in Mark Romanek's middling psychological drama is the only bright spot in an otherwise underdeveloped effort.

Rife with the expected nods to the art of picture-making, One Hour Photo opens with the flash of a camera. The credits give way to the image of Williams' graying, dorky, middle-aged photo technician being flashed for his mugshot. Working off the soft-spoken bachelor's account, the film endeavors to reveal what made this seemingly innocent guy do whatever awful thing we assume landed him in the klink.

So begins a descent into the life and times of the painfully lonely photo developer, Sy Parrish. A longtime employee of a K-Mart type chain superstore, Sy prides himself on delivering high quality prints to the customers who are his livelihood and, more pathetically, his life. Espousing such underwhelming wisdoms as, "No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget," Sy looks at life through the simplistic, limited prism of a man who lives vicariously through other people's pictures.

The pictures Sy is most enamored with, though, are those of the Yorkins. A seemingly idyllic clan, Sy has developed the family's photos for years, witnessing the courtship of hottie Mom (Connie Nielsen) and handsome Dad (Michael) progress into marriage and the production of cute son (Gary Cole). Doting particularly on these three customers who refer to him collectively as "Sy the Photo Guy," Sy concocts a separate reality in which he is a welcomed uncle to the Yorkins. Envisioning himself relaxing in their stately, modern California ranch, complete with its state-of-the-art gadgets and Pottery Barn furniture, Sy is the fourth member of the family he's always dreamed of.

But when the vision of the Yorkin's perfect family gives way to a darker reality, to an image of marital and domestic unrest, Sy loses his fragile grip on things and the well-intentioned stalker begins to show signs of violence.

A slow, dreary meditation on loneliness and depravity, One Hour Photo is structured in much the same vein as endless TV movies and bad teen features: it's all about fitting in. In this stylized version of the dork who becomes a psychopath in his quest to get a seat at the cool kid's table, Williams' painfully pathetic drip exerts all efforts on tasting the fruit of the good life. Romanek would have viewers believe that Sy's obsession is rooted in some misguided, but ultimately benevolent, idea of the nuclear family, but it's clear from the offset that it's what surrounds the Yorkins that makes them so appealing, and not the Yorkins themselves. A stiff, cardboard cut-out of yuppie-dom, the Yorkins have been pulled straight from the pages of J. Crew and Williams Sonoma. Nielsen (who is best known for her turn in Gladiator) and Vartan (Never Been Kissed) make for a cold, chemistry-less pair who both seem ill-suited to each other and domestication. If anything, you hate Sy most for choosing this trio as his ideal kinsmen-the bunch prove to have about as much backstory and character as the catalogue models they emulate.

Finally, Romanek has little interesting to say here, as evidenced in the repeated voiceovers Williams provides about what pictures really mean. Like everything else Sy does and says, these soundbites are trite and unnecessary. We know people like to take pictures. We know people care about their pictures. We know pictures record time, or at least we suppose they do. Ruminations like these abound in One Hour Photo, proving the film is unable to separate itself from the limited interests and knowledge of its not-so-swift antihero.