You are on page 1of 2


takes a snooze
By Frank Lovece
Speclal to The Record

a whole, "Awakeningst' does a great impression of Mother Teresa: noble, but not a lot of fun at pa,rties. If "painfully sincere" is damning with faint praise, well, we'll just have to say it louder.
aken as
Robert De Niro plays a patl€nt who ls brought back from llmbo ln "Awakenings."
Even that may be giving "Awakenings" too much credit. Loosely based on a reallife doctor's attempts at "awakening" long-term sufferers of encephalitis lethdisease keeping one - a horrifying in a perpetual, living-death daze this



retread "Rainman" is also painfully calculating. Robin Williams, as the doctor, plays another sincere, inspiring miafit, A la "Dead Poets Society" - a stretch again, but this time he doesn't go for the Iaughs. Robert De Niro, as the primary

to a "serious fiIm."

rospect, misguided, switch from comedy

patient, shows he won't be out-Hofflnan'd by Dustin. And director Penny Marshall makes an admirable, if, in retSee'AWAKENIiIGS' Page D-26




TAWAKENINGS' : Doctor's story
F.rom Page D-l

:And eerious it certainly is, to the point of lethargy, with the few


Ieavdning bits of humor coming strangely at the expenee of mental patients. Otherwise, the seriousness is so sentimental there's virtuallv no dramatic tension whicir is odd, since the filmmakers aheady play so fast and loose with the facts that the realJife doctor, Oliver Sacks, has been renamed


Lasker. Screenplly bv Slevgn Zrlllhn, blsed 0n lhe book "Aw.konlnca," bv Ollver Srcks, M. D. Pholo' crrphed by Mlroslrv Ondrlcok. Muslc bv Rlndv Newmrn. Edlled W J€rrv Grsenberg, Brlll€ Dlvls. Slarrlnc Robert De Nlro, Robln Wllllms, Julls Klvner, Mar Von Sydow, Ruth N6l3on, John Holrd, PsneloDs Ann Mlller, Allce Drummond, Anne Me!r!, Rlchrrd Llb€rtlnl, Dext€r Gordon. R€lels€d bv Columbl. Plcluros. l2l mlnul6s. Rrlod PG-13. Opons

by l hller F. Plrk€s lnd



Ponny Mlrshrll.


loday ln Mlnhrllrn.

Malcolm Sayer.

"Awakenings" opens in the Bronx in the late 1960s, at a second-rate hospital with a chroniccare center for profoundly ill neurolosical patientg. There, the awkiard but good-hearted SaYer becomes involved with a group of
vegetative patients whose charts

demic of 1917-27, and seeks adyice from an elderly specialist (Von Sy-

role that conveys the doctor's arrogant brilliance).


in a chillingly

powerful bit

Serious it certainly is, to the point of lethargy, with the few leavening bits of humor coming strangely at the expense of mental patients.
twists and hammer us with her intentions. (Could anyone in the

alfindicate mysterious "atypical' maladies of unknown origins. In
one clever line, Sayer wonders how

similar to Parkinson's disease. After attending a lecture on the then-new Parkinson's drug, LDOPA, he convinces the hosfital's

With these leads, Sayer concludes that his patients' malady is

theater not anticipate Leonard
coming back someday

all these "atypicals" hadn't
amounted to anything "t1pical."

With the help of a loyal, sad- Lowe (De Niro). sponsive until one night when (an had first seen Leonard We as a anorexicJooking sack nurse Sayer breaks into the hospital's Julie Kavner), Sayer begins to child (Anthony J. Nici) carving his drug cache and doles him out a park rename into a bench patients one of and work with the higher amount of L-DOPA .much sparch their similarities. He dis- director Marshall's many heavy- 'than was authorized.
ccivers the great encephalitis epihanded images that telegraph plot

supercilious chief of medicine (John Heard) to let him experiment on one patient Leonard

to see his name still there?) Leonard's doting mother (Ruth Nelson) gives her approval to SaYer's experimentation and he goes to work. Leonard remaing unre-

and Leonard awakens from his limbo. With him as a model, the hospital allows Sayer to treat the regt of his patients, with success.
But tragically

The high dosage does the trick,

Leonard begins to revert. De Niro, in both states, shows a brilliance of acting technique and that's the problem: He shows into his it. Hoffman disappeared role as an autistic savant, but De Niro isn't euccesgful in doing that. and plodding, filled with ertrane-

- "Rainman" to ry switches from the 1968 classic "Charley"

and here the eto-

Marshall's directing



ous shots and hokey parallels. Leonard takee his first steps outside the hospital in 30 years, so
let's show a toddler walking up the

steps beside him. And the blunt parallel of the patients' awakenings and Sayer's is made even more awkward by a epoon-fed moral at the end.

Julle Kavner and Robln Wllllams star ln "Awakenlngs."

The subject matter being what it is, there are undeniably heart-tugging moments, as when the revived Leonard is reunited with his nother. But mostly, "Awakenings" is stultiffingly serioue end seriously stultiffing.