FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON
There have been numerous dramatic adaptations of Flowers for Algernon. Cliff Robertson first appeared in a tv version The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon, which aired on The United States Steel Hour in 1961, and had him nominated for an Emmy Award. Robertson repeated the role in the most famous version of the story, the feature-film Charly (1968), for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award and several other major awards. The story has also been adapted into a stage play, starting in 1969. There was even a musical adaptation Charlie and Algernon, which first appeared in 1980.
Flowers for Algernon was remade as this tv movie starring Matthew Modine. Charlie Gordon is a plum role for any actor it has such an acting range that it cannot help but accrue awards nominations indeed, Matthew Modine received a Golden Satellite nomination for his performance here. This version is marginally more faithful to the original Daniel Keyes story than Charly was. The genius side and some scenes like where Charlie stands up at scientific conference to denounce the ethics of those who created him are much more effectively written here than they were in the 1968 film. This version also adds some scenes with Charlie going back to reconcile with his mother (Bonnie Bedelia).
Unfortunately, in director Jeff Bleckners hands, the memorable emotional effect of the original short story/novel drowns in mawkish sentiment. Jeff Bleckner is a veteran who has been directing tv since the mid-1970s, venturing into occasional genre mini-series such as Peter Benchleys The Beast (1996) and the Dean R. Koontz adaptation Black River (2001), but appears to have never had any ambition to move beyond television. Flowers for Algernon comes with a deadening earnestness a banal piano score tinkling away in the background of every scene seems there to point us in the direction of what to feel. Necessarily stripped of Daniel Keyes inner voice, which was what made the story/novel work, all that the tv movie has to rely upon is a series of banal montage scenes.
What would have made Flowers for Algernon work is stripping it of Jeff Bleckners sentimentalism and concentrating on Matthew Modines central performance. What we get instead is something that is less an adaptation of Daniel Keyes story than it is a variation on Forrest Gump (1994). The film makes a cliche dichotomy the low intellect Charlie has little in the way of brains but has a big heart and cares for everyone, even when they are making fun of him, and this is seen as being a more preferable way of looking at the world than the evidently more emotionally complicated life that having a higher IQ brings. To me, this seems no more than the feelgood wishing for a simpletons way of looking at the world and the belief that naivete equates with happiness. It is this simplistic reduction of the story that in effect ruins the film. Daniel Keyes version was heart wrenching but it was not mawkishly sentimental like the film is. Had Jeff Bleckner dropped the tinkly piano score, had stopped trying to tell the story so that every person watching could understand it, and had simply created a bare stage for Matthew Modines performance, he could have made a classic. Instead, all that we get is a film about a character that takes a tragic arc from simpleton to genius and back but in doing so only ends up sentimentally pining for a simpletons view of the world.
Matthew Modine does an okay job playing Charlie. Alas, one is never convinced that what is on show is ever more than Matthew Modine playing Charlie Gordon. We never feel that what we are seeing is more than the sum of the performance, something that could never be said for Cliff Robertsons essayal of the role, which seemed to convince that Cliff Robertson was Charly. At other times, Matthew Modines delineation of the character seems less like an intellectually handicapped man becoming a genius than it does a variant on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in particular, a scene where he flips back and forward between two personalities during a barroom encounter with a woman, which has a bizarrely out of place silliness to it. Kelli Williams, best known for the tv series The Practice (1997-2004), plays with an earnestly intent seriousness.
Film online in several parts beginning here:-