Jun 29, 2018
Welcome back to Film Buff Fridays! We’re moving about a decade later than last week’s film, right into 1988 for a progressive and contextually honest film about autism that won a few awards. I have a soft spot for this time period, since I was just beginning to see movies at home on VHS. Do you have any favorite films from the late 1980s you’d like to see reviewed? Let us know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Rain Man” (1988), the Oscar-winning drama directed by Barry Levinson and written for the screen by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass. The film follows Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), who discovers an autistic brother named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) after their father dies, and kidnaps him in an attempt to extort more of their inheritance. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dustin Hoffman, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
I had one question sitting down to watch this film for the third time. How well does it hold up with our expanded knowledge about autism, especially with the increasing number of diagnoses? I made sure to sit down with my wife to watch this film, who works as a special education teacher with some autistic children, because Hollywood has been plagued with many well-meaning, but horribly executed films about non-neurotypical characters played by neurotypical actors. And the most I heard about this film when it debuted and at my age was jokes about Raymond Babbitt’s verbal repetitions and mannerisms.
In short, “Rain Man” does hold up. Really well, in fact. It helps that the film consulted six different research and treatment authorities on the subject in developing the script and the character, one that Dustin Hoffman expertly portrays and deserving of the Best Actor Oscar. And Cruise’s character, as infuriating as he can be, does represent the contextually correct attitude by society at the time, and more importantly, his reformation as a character gives others hope as well who are ignorant of autism and other non-neurotypical diagnoses. The only drawback about the film is that not all autistic individuals are necessarily savants like Raymond. As my wife said repeatedly during the film, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met exactly one person with autism.”
It has a few flaws, mostly to move the story along. Charlie’s girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) departs initially from a contrived, yet comedic conflict in the hotel suite. Counting cards doesn’t work like they make it out to be in Vegas. And kidnapping your autistic brother from an institution and carrying him across multiple state lines would land Charlie in jail. Not a fan of the exotic pan-flute laden score as well, which seemed to add the wrong kind of tone to their journey. Every single one of these flaws, though, is overcome by the larger story of two brothers finding each other, and one that still had me in tears at the end, dangerously close to ugly cry territory.
“Rain Man” (1988) is a classic film about autism that still holds up. Dustin Hoffman’s performance is one of the best ever, treating a difficult character with respect and care, even when the script could be harsh and borderline offensive. Fans of excellent dramas, or folks who want to learn more about autism, then and now, should definitely check out this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (CERTIFIED)
One Movie Punch: 9.0/10
“Rain Man” (1988) is rated R and is currently streaming on Hulu, Vudu, Tubi TV, and Filmstruck.