Based on the novel by Saul Bellow, SEIZE THE DAY is a superbly unsettling film about one man's disintegrating life. In 1956, Tommy Wilhelm (Robin Williams), a divorced, alcoholic, toy salesman, punches his boss and gets fired. He tells his lover, Olive (Glenne Headly), he's going to NYC to look for work. In the city, he visits his father, Dr. Adler (Joseph...read more
Based on the novel by Saul Bellow, SEIZE THE DAY is a superbly unsettling film about one man's disintegrating life.
In 1956, Tommy Wilhelm (Robin Williams), a divorced, alcoholic, toy salesman, punches his boss and gets fired. He tells his lover, Olive (Glenne Headly), he's going to NYC to look for work. In the city, he visits his father, Dr. Adler (Joseph Wiseman), a successful MD who despises Tommy for not
following in his footsteps and constantly humiliates him. It is revealed that Tommy changed his name from Wilkie Adler in an unsuccessful bid at an acting career, motivated by resentment of his domineering father.
Dr. Tamkin (Jerry Stiller), who lives in the same building as Adler, convinces Tommy to invest with him in commodities futures, painting a glowing picture of fortunes to be made and urging him to "seize the day". Tommy's prospects are bleak, and he agrees to gamble his last $700.
As the day progresses, Tommy is humiliated by Dr. Adler and his friends. Margaret (Katherine Borowitz), his ex, demands alimony. His older son hangs up on him when he says he wants to marry Olive. His younger son refuses to speak with him. He watches his investment disappear, while surrounded by
unsympathetic speculators. Adler coldly refuses when he pleads for a loan. Finally Tamkin leaves town, apparently with Tommy's money. In pursuit of Tamkin, Tommy enters a synagogue during a stranger's funeral. He breaks down and cries.
SEIZE THE DAY is permeated by a pervasive feeling of guilt and angst, created with almost no physical violence. Claustrophobic framing and extensive use of crowded interiors maintains this mood, which is sparked by brilliant acting and a painfully empathic script. The dark score by Elizabeth
Swados reinforces the ubiquitous sense of impending doom, while the unobtrusive mise-en-scene editing emphasizes acting over visual underlining.
Williams' frenetic pacing and delivery is ideal for Tommy's character. He sweats and cries his way through the movie. As Dr. Adler, a disappointed, unforgiving, and sadistic father, Joseph Wiseman is chilling. Jerry Stiller plays Dr. Tamkin with the conviction of a born flim-flam artist. He's
unrelentingly upbeat and supportive of Tommy, which makes his final betrayal doubly painful.
Saul Bellow's main themes--guilt (especially Jewish guilt), broken and dysfunctional families, alienation, and finally, acceptance--take on vivid and disturbing life in this production. Shown on PBS in 1986, SEIZE THE DAY was probably considered too depressing for theatrical release. Its rerelease
on video is a rare treat for serious film lovers. (Adult situations, violence.)
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