It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In his choice of characters, Robin Williams seems more comfortable playing soloists--people set apart by special skills or problems. Remember him in “Jumanji,” trapped in time. Or in “Popeye,” where “I yam what yam.” Or in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” crossing the gender line. Or consider his unclassifiable characters in “The Fisher King” and “Toys.” The closest he comes to a three-dimensional, grownup person is in “The World According to Garp” and “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Williams seems most at home in bodies that don't quite fit. Maybe that's why he had so much fun doing the voice of the genie in “Aladdin.” He must have been the first choice for Francis Ford Coppola's “Jack,” where he plays a boy who is aging at four times the normal rate. He is born, fully developed, after a two-month pregnancy, and at the age of 10 he looks exactly like a 40-year-old man.
The notion of a boy trapped in a man's body has been done before, by Tom Hanks in “Big,” for example. “Jack” brings it poignancy, because the situation isn't caused by magic, but by medical reasons; it's obvious Jack may not turn 20. (His condition is not inspired by a real disease, but was created by the filmmakers.) Williams works hard at seeming to be a kid inside an adult body, and some of his inspirations work well. But he has been ill-served by a screenplay that isn't curious about what his life would really be like.
Coppola brought great pathos to a similar situation in his “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986), where a 43-year-old woman (Kathleen Turner) found herself inside her own teenage body. He found scenes that dealt truly with the crushing fact that we float on a current of time. In “Jack,” he and his writers, James DeMonaco and Gary Nadeau, go for more obvious payoffs.
The setup: As a device to make the story simpler and more dramatic, “Jack” is essentially kept out of society until he's 10. A tutor (Bill Cosby) comes to his home every day, and Jack has no ordinary contact with other kids. The movie explains this through the concerns of his uptight mom (Diane Lane), but finally the tutor and the dad (Brian Kerwin) prevail, and he goes to school.