The World According to Garp (1982)
September 6, 2014 4:07 PM - Subscribe

Based on the 1978 best-selling novel by John Irving, the film follows the life of writer T.S. Garp (Robin Williams), the son of unmarried, unorthodox feminist Jenny Fields.

The film generally received good to mixed reviews. Glenn Close (who was making her film debut) and John Lithgow (who portrayed Roberta Muldoon, a trans woman) both received Academy Award nominations for their supporting roles.

Roger Ebert:
The novel The World According to Garp was (I think) a tragicomic counterpoint between the collapse of middle-class family values and the rise of random violence in our society. [...] The movie, however, seems to believe that the book's characters and events are somehow real, or, to put it another way, that the point of the book is to describe these colorful characters and their unlikely behavior, just as Melville described the cannibals in Typee.
Janet Maslin:
''Garp'' is well staged on a scene-by-scene basis, but the overall movie has pacing problems. Its story consists of tiny events and wildly monumental ones, with nothing intermediate to connect them. And the story merely progresses, rather than builds. This is a film in which one realizes sadly, about halfway through, that nothing much is going to develop naturally and that anything strongly dramatic that happens to the characters will have to be grafted on. [...] Mr. Williams's role is a very demanding one, calling on him to age from a teen-ager to a family man, a process he has trouble with. His performance is engaging but erratic, more effective in the clownier, busier scenes than in those that ask him to recite lines or stand still.
Film Quarterly:
The World According to Garp is a remarkable achievement. Steve Tesich and George Roy Hill have succeeded in transforming John Irving's powerful, darkly comic "feminist" novel into an insipid, safe and sentimental "masculine" film. Something indeed has been lost in the change of medium: the message. Lust, rape, new relationships between men and women, new definitions of fatherhood and manhood--these are the issues in Irving's Garp. All changed or omitted in the film.
More reviews available here.

Bonus: original NY Times book review of Irving's novel.
posted by scody (11 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I really loved this movie when I was younger. A few years later I finally got around to reading the book, and it started a John Irving binge reading phase. And just to bring it full circle, I got the chance to watch the movie again after having read the book, and I was thoroughly underwhelmed.

There are some incredible actors in this - Lithgow was incredible - but it wasn't as good as the book. Has anyone else had this same experience?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:03 AM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was a book-first fan -- it was an amazingly successful best-seller, one of those all-encompassing cultural experiences. And it was a page-turner; it may have been the fastest read-through of a thick novel I'd ever had up to that point. I would say that I had great trouble accepting Williams in the role, although the last time I rewatched he had grown on me. It definitely launched Close and Lithgow's careers; at the time, of course, transsexualism was known but largely snickered at, and it was a courageous role to undertake, but especially today I wonder how well it has aged. And wait, holy crap, Amanda Plummer was Ellen James?

(I'll also say that I plowed through Irving's early work and discovered that much of it reads like partial drafts for Garp, particularly his collected short stories. He didn't really mature as an author until The Cider-House Rules. I think he had finally exorcised the demons of his real life in some way.)

I would call it a flawed adaptation. It had to excise large parts of the novel, as usual, and what was left was more visually jokey or exploitative, which gave the film a skewed, outline-like feeling, rather than a lived life, which was much of the book's point. By way of (perhaps unfair) comparison, Forrest Gump adapted a similarly picaresque novel in ways that more fully closed and completed the narrative. There was, back in the studio system days, the moniker of "story problems" or "third (sometimes second) act problems" for scripts that had compelling elements but needed a polish, and often did not get it before (or even during) shooting. I feel this film exhibits some of that, and I don't know that it would have been solvable with time or another screenwriter's hand, but certainly was pushed into production to capitalize on the still-popular novel's sales. It made money, but may just have barely paid for itself ($17M budget, presumed similar promotion costs, and $29M domestic gross), when Warners may have hoped for a cinematic home run like the book's sales. If it hadn't had that baggage, though, it might have been received a little better.
posted by dhartung at 1:04 PM on September 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was such an enormous fan of the book, the movie didn't stand much chance for me. Plus I watched it years after its release, on video. I remember very little of the movie now which I think is a reflection on how I felt about it at the time I watched it. It does have quite a cast. I'm a little curious to re-watch.
posted by latkes at 3:15 PM on September 7, 2014

This film introduced me to John Lithgow AND Glenn Close, so it will always have a special place in my memory. I sometimes say to myself, "Beware the undertoad," which I got from the movie (read the book later).
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:02 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp at a quite young age (I'd guess around 12-13?), and they had a huge impact on me (even in Norwegian). The Garp film is fine, I guess, but it's got absolutely nothing on the book. Irving is one of those authors who it seems like a great idea to adapt, but who's actually really tricky because his stories are so dense.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:50 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

dhartung wrote: "And wait, holy crap, Amanda Plummer was Ellen James?"

And along those lines: wow, that was Swoosie Kurtz as "The Hooker", didn't recognize her.

Random thoughts on the movie only:

- Garp's mother is so controlling, invasive, and weird about "lust" - and yet a compelling character, one that you enjoy when she's on the screen, and Garp clearly has no problems with her competitiveness with her son (taking up writing when he does, her lack of reciprocation when it comes to what they can write about, and sharing drafts, etc.)

- Yet Glenn Close's performance, and Robin Williams, makes you assess her through her admiring son's eyes: she is good, there for him when he needs her, and wants to help everyone.

- John Lithgow's character (Roberta Muldoon), was a big deal at the time: a breakthrough for representation of transsexuals as human beings, not something to be made fun of. Lithgow recently spoke on "Colbert Nation" (to promote the film, Love is Strange, that he approaches the character as a human being first and foremost.

- The plain Halloween decorations on the Garp's front door reminded me of how much less commercialized this holiday way then; that's a side-note I guess.

- Garp comments, jokingly, about the baby-sitter being a teenage male ("THAT'S the baby-sitter?!?") - and although it's also a joke about no-more-female-babysitters, it's also a joke about gender expectations not being adhered to (this joke is now dated).

Many people came away from the movie scratching their heads and going, "What was that all about?" I think there's some difficulty in finding a coherence that perhaps was in the books.

The themes I could locate were: the formation of an artist's imagination (the cartoon sequence early on, and Garp developing the plot of a story gathered from his observations that day while on a walk). Sex seemed a big theme but other than how there's a weird social taboo thing surrounding sex, I didn't see anything else than a young many trying to experience his sexuality with a controlling mother with hangups about "lust".

- Healing: people being broken by life (patriarchy, assault, hostility due to not conforming) and trying to heal each other (in groups).

- There was also an awful lot of "radical feminism is weird scary shit" going on, with Garp's grandparent's home being used as an oasis for extreme radical feminist groups and those who had some sort of injury.

-The relationship between writer and publisher is laughably dated (as if the writer could pull the shots like Garp and his mother did in the publisher's office!).

I didn't mind the dated aspects, just wanted to note them.

- One of the most memorable opening title sequences for a film, I think, and a really good use of The Beatles' "When I'm 64" (I wonder if they have any trouble getting the permission to use it?).

- The actress who played "Pooh", Brenda Currin, is a character actress, "Out of all the films she has appeared in, perhaps her finest performance was as Nancy Clutter in the widely acclaimed In Cold Blood (1967)..." (Wikipedia).

So, why did Pooh shoot Garp? I don't get what her deal was, I suppose it didn't matter but was it explained more in the book?

I miss Robin Williams - this was a damn fine performance of his.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:15 PM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

(Probably one of the best portrayals in a non-documentary film of the sport of wrestling also.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:16 PM on September 9, 2014

Pooh was a pretty obvious Valerie Solanas reference, I thought. I don't remember if there's more explanation about her motivations and whatnot in the book.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:54 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah, I see.

I forgot to mention another theme: death. Big scary death theme.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:23 PM on September 11, 2014

'GARP BIT BONKERS' - one of the best lines.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:38 PM on September 13, 2014

I agree that the movie is flawed, especially regarding the herky-jerky disjointed plot. But the performances have made this a much loved film for me. My favorite role ever for Robin Williams, and come to think of it, perhaps my favorite roles for John Lithgow and Glenn Close as well.
posted by marsha56 at 4:47 PM on May 25, 2015

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