The Best of Times (1986)
October 18, 2014 10:30 AM - Subscribe

A small-town loser determines to have one more shot at the big time by winning a football game.

Bryce Wilson (Agents of Geek) warns against interpreting Williams' performances biographically, and outlines the importance of place in "Remembering Robin Williams: The Best of Times":
And yet it is impossible to ignore that The Best Of Times is a comedy whose foundations are in failure. The film takes place in Taft (which sometimes serves as the film’s alternative title), perhaps the single most unglamorous place in California. A place so God forsakenly devoid of charm that Fresno, Stockton, Barstow and Bakersfield use it to feel better about themselves. It is that last one that concerns The Best Of Times, as Williams lays out in his opening monologue which chronicles Taft’s inglorious legacy over a montage of grim stock footage. The hated Bakersfield routinely destroys Taft in football and the one time Taft came close to beating their rivals Williams literally dropped the ball, flubbing a beauty of a pass from Kurt Russell’s QB and instantly becoming the town pariah. A designation that still haunts him fifteen years later and drives him to restage the game, bringing back the rosters of both teams, something that may sound farfetched until you realize just how little there is to do in Taft.

So here emerges Williams, hated by his town, emasculated by his boss, disdained by his family and so dispirited by life in general that he has to pay a prostitute to listen to him bitch about a football game that happened over a decade ago. He has none of the maniac exuberance that one associates with the “typical” Williams performance he’s a pathetic character founded in desperation and Williams makes him funny.
Walter Goodman of The New York Times wrote in his 1986 film review:
The muddy football game that concludes ''The Best of Times'' is such a rouser that it almost makes up for the incomplete passes and stopped runs that precede it. The last 20 minutes of the movie, which opens today at the Loews Paramount and other theaters, are full of energy, on field and in the stands. There are sloggy fumbles and splashy runs, pile-ups and mix-ups, hollers from the fans and mutters between players – one promises another ''death, humiliation and pain.'' And it's all rushing toward that big final pass. When it comes, it leaves you with the sort of sappy happy feeling that Frank Capra and Preston Sturges used to provide.
Bits and bobs
  • You might recognize David Moffat from Popeye (1980, FanFare), The Thing (1982, with Kurt Russell), or The Right Stuff (1983, playing 'Lyndon B. Johnson'); also, M. Emmet Walsh is recognizable from Bladerunner (1982).
  • "Kirk Cameron plays Teddy Hightower, Reno and Gigi's son. Tracey Gold plays an unnamed friend of Jack and Holly's daughter Jaki Dundee. By the time this movie was released, Cameron and Gold were playing brother and sister in the TV sitcom Growing Pains (1985)." (imdb)
  • "Taft High School's actual mascot is the Wildcats (not the Rockets, as in the film). Bakersfield High School's real mascot is the Drillers." (imdb)
  • "Appearing in a major supporting role as a one of the spouses was Holly Palance who was in real-life also the spouse of the film's director Roger Spottiswoode." (imdb)
  • "The big night-game of gridiron was shot at the Moorpark Memorial High School in Moorpark, California." (imdb)
Director: Roger Spottiswoode (IMDb, Wikipedia)

Information about Taft, California at Wikipedia (of note: movies filmed in Taft is longer and more prestigious than you might expect).

YouTube links
Movie Trailer
Unaired interview with Robin Williams for The Best of Times
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Okay I'll break the ice: this is movie almost feels like a different country because aspects of it area so dated. The pacing, the characterizations - hair, cars, clothing. (The clothing is appropriately casual but it's so weird to see people on screen dressed that way that I can't imagine the same characters being "spruced up" today.)

Robin Williams is very good in this - I'm not just saying that because he's passed away. In retrospect, I think he put a lot into every role he's done and researching the films for this series, and re-watching his performances, just drives that home.

Kurt Russell is so-so - I feel like he, if not phones it in, is waving his hand over the receiver at least. Still, it's a Kurt Rusell not so removed from The Thing so he's still got that halo around him to my mind.

Gender roles pretty old-fashioned and best given a pass.

Williams has very good scenes with David Moffat - and the dialogue is pretty good too. So there's some strength there, and lots of comedy. However, I felt that there was definitely more pain than comedy; Williams' character is literally all alone and unable to comfort himself - his only solution is to re-live the football game so he can "correct" it - sort of a perfectionist's approach and I found his character's film room where he would re-watch the football game footage frustrating and painful (why would you do that to yourself?!?). Okay it's a comedy and I don't think we're supposed to take the premise that seriously! But still.

So there are some things that are odd for today's sensibilities, or that don't seem as convincing nor plausible as perhaps they did when the film was first released. BUT I would say if you're a Williams' fan and looking to do a retrospective of his work - include it! Williams is very watchable in this and he pretty much carries the film.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:17 PM on October 22, 2014

This is one of my favorite movies from the 80s. I remember seeing it in the theaters.I really gelled with the movie because of how Moffat becomes obsessed with this single moment in time. (I totally do this. Replay moments again and again in my head and agonize over how I could have done things better and everything would be different.) That scene near the opening when he's hiding and watching the film of the's not only some great acting, but I totally could see myself doing that.

What's amazing about the movie is MOFFAT IS RIGHT. By doing this, by "rewriting history", he is able to transform himself and the town. The movie, ultimately, is about one being to redefine oneself against all odds (on both a micro and macro level). This is a popular theme, but unusual in a comic film.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:22 PM on December 13, 2014

Just a few nights ago I thought, wouldn't it be hilarious to do a post about The Best of Times? And then I thought that no one would possibly be interested in it--but lo and behold, here it is!

This is a movie that 10 year old me liked quite a bit when I saw it in the theatre but I'm not sure how I feel watching it again because I tend to doubt it would hold up to my memory of it.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:23 PM on February 11, 2016

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