Starring: Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Oliver Platt, Sam Neill
Writer: Nicholas Kazan (adapted from “The Positronic Man” by Isaac Asimov)
Director: Chris Columbus
Rated PG for: Some Language and Sexual Content
I love Bicentennial Man. I love it. I freaking love it. There, I said it (three times)! Bicentennial Man is one of those movies I get a lot of flack for liking. People either hate it or really hate it, and I understand why; Chris Columbus is a pretty bad director, it can get really boring, and let’s face it the Robin Williams robot body suit looks completely and utterly ridiculous. Still, every now and then I’ll be sitting on the couch lamenting the loss of my youth (oh to be 18 again) and all of a sudden this thought pops into my head: “gee wiz, let’s watch Bicentennial Man, it’s the bees knees!”. My thought process may talk like it’s stuck in a 50’s sitcom, but I never disagree with its point: to me, Bicentennial Man is, golly gee wiz, the bees knees!
Robin Williams stars as Andrew, an android who is bought by the Martin family to serve as their servant. The family is headed by Sir (Sam Neill), his wife Ma’am (Wendy Crewson), the angry angsty Grace (Lindze Letherman), and the youngest of the clan Little Miss (the Pepsi kid from the 90’s). Initially, he is just an every day robot doing every day tasks (this movie takes place in the future, if you didn’t guess already), but he begins to show a penchant for learning. Sir is captivated by this, and begins to teach Andrew how to tell a joke and about life itself (leading to an obvious “birds and bees” joke). Andrew is also skilled with wood and begins crafting clocks. Cut to years later, the family is growing up, and Andrew’s clocks are everywhere. Sir begins to sell them, making Andrew a whole bunch of money from the “grandfather clocks are still hip” group of the future. Andrew eventually asks for his independence, builds a house, and wears people clothes.
Eventually, Sir passes away and Andrew embarks on a many year journey across the land to find robots like him, robots who aren’t mindless drones. He stumbles across a cooky bio-engineer Rubert Burns (Oliver Platt) and Andrew decides to become more human. The first step? Human skin and hair of course! Andrew returns home looking like a coked out comedian and finds out that Little Miss has grown old. With her passing, Andrew and Little Miss’ daughter, played Embeth Davidtz (who played the adult Little Miss previously), strike up a friendship and later a romance. All the while, Andrew quests to become more human, creating mechanical organs and nervous systems, so he can eventually be declared human and his relationship with Davidtz can be validated. As you can guess, the journey of Andrew’s humanity takes 200 years, or a bicentennial…man (*rimshot*).
Bicentennial Man is hokey, preachy, and filled with enough sap to create a maple syrup factory out of it. Still, I love it. Why is this? It’s the journey. I find it absolutely captivating watching Andrew go from a robot with no feelings, to an artist, to him building his own house, to him growing a true personality, to eventually becoming legitimately human. Williams gives a fine subdued performance here, and although he shuns the movie, it’s one of my favorites that he has been in (the other being, of course, Patch Adams…kidding, kidding!). The supporting cast is great too; do you remember Oliver Platt ever giving in a bad performance? Me either, and his streak continues through this movie. Sam Neill, as the patriarch who indulges Andrew’s tendencies in the beginning, is also great and little cameos from Stephen Root (who plays the CEO of the corporation Andrew was made by that wants to shut him down) and Bradley Whitford (who plays Angry Girl’s Angry Son) are great, if a bit short.
Bicentennial Man also tackles some pretty deep themes, namely what it truly means to be considered “human”. Andrew has all the thoughts and feelings that humans do, but since he is a robot, the rest of the human race does not consider him one of their own. Even as he fights to look like one and have all the bells and whistles (including a penis! LOL amirite?!?), he is still considered a robot and therefore inferior. It makes you think; what classifies you as a human? Sure you live and breathe, but do you feel? Do you take joys in the little things that Andrew has to fight to achieve? For a PG film, it’s pretty deep subject matter.
I’m also a sucker for movies that take place in the future, and there’s some good imagery here. I especially dug the backdrop of a futuristic San Francisco where you see the normal current day city in front of a futuristic backdrop of giant buildings and flying cars. If there’s a futuristic landscape to sink my teeth into, I am there.
So why did Bicentennial Man fail? Well, there are a lot of reasons. It does drag intensely, and its sap level is reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. Also, when it came out, the previews presented it as a comedy, and not the exploration of a robot’s 200 year journey to become human. When me and my family went to see it Christmas Day, that’s what we were expecting. By the end, I was the only one awake. Expectations for them were not met. Me? Well, I’m writing this article so what the hell do you think, PUNK?
While it does deserve some of the negative press it gets from most moviegoers, I can’t help but love Bicentennial Man. It’s one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies that I can turn on and watch all the way through without being bored. I am proud to have it on my DVD shelf, but I understand if you don’t want to watch it. Really, it’s okay. We can watch The Love Guru instead. Wait…no…COME BACK! I LOVE YOU!