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Defending “The Best of Times”

In the days following the death of Robin Williams, I read many of his obituaries and career overviews, and they all featured a list of the “Top 10 Robin Williams Movies.”  I read every list, certain that somebody would mention a specific title I was looking for.  Instead, I found the same ten movies, more or less, every time: “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” etc.

Unfortunately, there is one terrific Robin Williams movie I could not find on any “Best of Robin” list.  It wasn’t recognized when he was alive, and it’s been overlooked, yet again, in the countless tributes after his death.  What’s going on here?  It’s as if the film doesn’t exist!  I know it exists, because I’ve seen it at least ten times.  A lot of his fans have never even heard of it.  Well, friends, we’re going to fix that today.  Now that all those other media outlets and lesser websites have had their say, we will give Robin Williams the send-off he deserves by celebrating a movie that I love with all of my heart.

In 1986, Robin Williams starred in a movie with Kurt Russell called, “The Best of Times.”  A quick summary: Robin Williams, as Jack Dundee, cannot escape the memory of a dropped football pass during his senior year in high school.  He has allowed this one moment to define and destroy his entire adult life.  To wipe the slate clean and revitalize his life, he becomes obsessed with a plan to organize a rematch between his aging and flabby Taft Rockets (Class of 1973) and their hated rival, the Bakersfield Tigers.

“The Best of Times” captures, perfectly, the football fanaticism of a small town with only one high school.  That can be a bonding experience for the entire community.  I know this, because I lived in just such a town in North Texas.  (Our version of the changing fall colors was when the entire town would turn Orange & White for ten weeks every September.)

Some might call it a “B” movie…okay, that’s fair.  As far as ’80s comedies go, it ain’t “Tootsie,” and it ain’t “Ghostbusters,” but it delivers big laughs, and it has a lot of heart.  Some might say the ending is predictable.  Oookay…and we’re going to dismiss every movie that has a predictable ending?

In this Robin Williams Tribute, there will be no “Top 10 List.”  All I request is the Number One spot for “The Best of Times.”  I’ll leave it to everybody else to sort out the other nine.  Mr. Williams, rest in peace.  Your contribution and your talents have now been properly memorialized.

In this scene, nobody wants to replay The Big Game, especially not Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell), the star quarterback back in 1972, but who now has an automotive shop, a fragile marriage and a destroyed knee.  Needing to provoke the people of Taft into action, Jack (Robin Williams) has disguised himself and vandalized the town, throwing orange paint (Bakersfield!) all over the Caribou Lodge and on Reno’s wife.  (There’s a nice, subtle moment near the end of the scene when Reno tests his throwing arm and wonders what he’s gotten himself into.)  Enjoy!…