Review: One Hour Photo

The Thinker by Rodin

I am creeped out. One Hour Photo, starring Robin Williams as Sy Parrish, the one hour photo clerk, is high on my personal revulsion meter. It didn’t creep me out because of gory or excessive violence but because of its honest portrayal of a middle aged guy with no friends and his obsession with the young boy of one of his customers. Is he a pedophile? Or is he just working through issues of his own childhood?

Sadly there are lots of dysfunctional adults like Sy Parrish out there. I know a few of them. They seem incapable of having any meaningful social contact. They have no friends. They eat dinners alone in diners. They go home to empty apartments. They are weird and we instinctively shy away from them. At the same time you wonder if they could turn them into normal people if only people cared, and people rarely do. Our radars detect these societal losers and we give them wide berth. The brilliant actor and comedian Robin Williams does a deft job of capturing the Sy Parrishes of the world. Perhaps it is because we instinctively shy away from them that it is so difficult to spend just ninety minutes in their peculiar and lonely universe.

By day Sy Parrish is a man obsessed with turning out instant high quality photos for his customers. But poor invisible Sy behind the photo counter is still a man, and he has needs. He has needs for connection, for love and he is dealing as a dysfunctional adult with his own miserable childhood. One of his best customers is Nina Yorkin, played by Connie Nielsen, a lady some twenty years younger with a boy approaching adolescence and an emotionally estranged husband. Over the years Sy and Nina develop a casual relationship that means much more to Sy than it does to Nina, who is barely aware of the man. Secretly Sy makes extra copies of all her photos and keeps them on one wall of his apartment. His sole hobby seems to be spending his off hours looking at every detail of the photos and projecting himself into their lives. He wants to be thought of as Uncle Sy and creates little opportunities to bring himself closer to this boy and his mother.

Whether his intent is good or bad, it certainly is not healthy. You wonder what is going on when he starts attending the boy’s soccer practices, or offers him toys, or happens to meet his mother in an eatery in a Mall. What is his intent?

Anyhow it is Sy’s obsession with this family through endless plumbing of their photos that allows him to discover that Nina’s husband is cheating on her, and it is his stealth of hand that raises the issue. The discovery coincides with the management of the SavMart where he works discovering that Sy is doing more than developing photographs, and he gets canned. The combination of events puts Sy over the edge and we get to find out whether he is just a dysfunctional adult or a creepy child molester.

This was one of those movies, while good, that was still painful to watch. I often wanted to put my hands in front of my eyes and pretend that things like this didn’t happen. It deserves its R rating, not so much for the tiny bits of nudity and violence but for the creepy and unusual adult themes. Robin Williams is as always wholly convincing in his part. It’s hard to recommend a movie this emotionally upsetting but if you have the stomach for it you will find it is deftly done. 3.0 on my 4.0 scale.