Awesomeness, thy name is Robert Downey Jr.
Got a bad movie? Put Robert Downey Jr. in it and it’s suddenly watchable. Think about it. There are some pretty lousy films with RDJ in them. Is it ever his fault, though? NEVER. His arrival onscreen is something I’d liken to a knock on your door during a house fire. You open it and say, “Thank God you’re here.”
Sometimes his appearances are too brief (Richard III, Bowfinger) Sometimes you have to wait for an hour and a half for his arrival (In Dreams – and by God, it’s worth the wait) or the whole goddamn movie (The Incredible Hulk, which was unbearable). But, either way, it pays off.
So it’s no surprise that RDJ makes Michael Hoffman’s Restoration (1995) watchable. The fact that he stars in it, as well as his character’s shenanigans, make it a perfect addition to the Shrine. All I could think was, “How is it that my friends and I didn’t know about this movie during high school?” Along with The Man In The Iron Mask (1998), The Serpent’s Kiss (1997) and Plunkett & Macleane (1999), Restoration would have been one of our favorite Shrine costume dramas. It has huge wigs, grandiose sets, crazy rich people and a bunch of cackling whores. As far as I know, that’s most of our criteria.
The story revolves around young, debauched physician Robert Merivel (Downey Jr.) living in 17th century England. He works in a hospital alongside his best pal, John Pearce (David Thewlis), where he proves himself to be ambitious and naturally talented, but more disposed to lose his money gambling and banging inexpensive prostitutes. A lot of David Thewlis head-shaking ensues.
As an aside: for the record, I have gotten over my aversion to David Thewlis. We’re totally cool now, and I should issue a formal apology.
But back to the story. The fates have something bigger in mind for Merivel, or, as he puts it, “I must restrain my farts and do something altogether more productive.” His calling comes when King Charles II (Sam Neill) needs someone to treat his favorite spaniel. Merivel saves the dog and in return becomes a fixture at court. He begins to wear ridiculously flamboyant clothes, drinks like a fish and has sex with just about any woman he can get his hands on. More David Thewlis head-shaking ensues.
Thing is, he quickly forgets who is funding all of this merriment.
It turns out that the King needs a favor in return. Merivel will marry one of the King’s favorite mistresses, Lady Celia (Polly Walker), in order to placate another jealous mistress. Merivel is flabbergasted, but once he sees Celia he’s pretty cool with it.
So a wedding is in order. I’m not really familiar with 17th century marriage practices, but apparently it involves a crowd chasing you to the marital bed. And you’re naked. And you have feathers between your legs.
There’s a catch, though. The King tells Merivel this is a “paper marriage” that can never be consummated. It’s all for show. It isn’t a totally bad situation, though. Merivel will be living on a lavish estate with Celia and have Ian McKellen as a manservant. Sir Ian McKellen. Manservant. I never thought I would see Gandalf waiting on Iron Man, but I guess I was wrong. Merivel can also continue to be a completely dissolute drunkard who throws gigantic orgies- the King doesn’t give a damn.
Well, for someone as foolish as Merivel this simply can’t last. Everything goes south when a really fruity Hugh Grant shows up in the film looking like this:
Needless to say, Grant stutters a bunch of stuff to the King and ruins Merivel’s life. He is ejected from the estate and Ian McKellen is a sad, sad panda. So now it’s time to go back to his old job. David Thewlis is waiting for him, shaking that head again.
Should I tell you (my friends) a blow-by-blow of the rest of the film? Well, I think not, because it only gets nuttier. I will tell you that the rest of the film is a testament to how awesome Robert Downey Jr. can be in the 17th century. He heals mental patients with woodwinds, cuts a baby out of Meg Ryan then announces to no one in particular, “Excuse me while I save England from the Plague.” All in all, just another day in the life, right?
It’s only until the end of the movie that you realize the title of the film has several meanings (gasp!). I don’t want to spoil anything else but I will add that RDJ becomes ultimate baby daddy.
That’s right. ULTIMATE BABY DADDY. Of course, you’d have to see the film to warrant a discussion here.
And did you read the Meg Ryan part? I wasn’t kidding about that.