In recent years, Hollywood has become a lot more sensitive to addressing mental illness, homelessness and aging in movies. Back in the magical and mystical ’90s (and even the early 2000s) though, it was kinda “anything goes.” Here are five pretty ridiculous examples of “crazy” movie characters who turn out to be awesome, helpful people, and sometimes even heroes.
Old man Marley -- Home Alone.
The first time we meet Old Man Marley (played by Robert Blossom), we see him as Kevin does: a haggard, Depression-era hobo ghost of an old man, dragging a garbage can full of salt and a shovel around the neighborhood all the live-long day. Mute and terrifying with murder in his eyes (and presumably his heart), legend (Buzz) tells Kevin that the garbage can is full of salt, for the purposes of preserving the dead body that he drags around with him for some reason.
Why Kevin believes his tarantula-owning, clearly-resentful-of-Kevin's-boy-next-door-good-looks cousin escapes us, but kids aren't super smart. Kevin spends most of the movie being terrified of Marley, seemingly moreso than he is of the Wet Bandits, who have invaded his home to do him bodily harm and flood his family's dated, country-style kitchen.
It isn't until Kevin seeks refuge in a church on Christmas Eve that he learns the truth about Salty McWrinkles. He's in the church too, probably because everything closes so early on Christmas, but also to watch his granddaughter's choir rehearsal. He's not allowed to see his granddaughter for some undisclosed reason, but nevermind that because Grandpas are never scary, so everything is pretty much fine.
In the end, good ol' Salty comes to the rescue with his trusty shovel, because after being set on fire, tarred and feathered and smashed in the face with paint cans, a whack from a common household item administered by an octogenarian is all it takes to take down the Wet Bandits.
The Pigeon Lady -- Home Alone 2.
Do you guys give up, or are you thirsty for more? Of course you are; sequels are a goldmine! In the second installation of a story that would get the McCallister family their very own file at Social Services, Kevin's family loses him again. On Christmas, again.
When Kevin first catches a glimpse of The Pigeon Lady minding her own business and being nice to birds in Central Park, he flees in fear to his cushy hotel suite at The Plaza, to run up that $967 room service bill we'll hear about later on. Except she didn't even do anything scary! Alright, so she looks a little like Hagrid, but those books hadn't even been written yet. Calm down, Kev.
It's not until she saves his selfish little life by freeing his stuck foot during a chase and hiding him, that Kevin softens. He realizes that this old woman is not a monster, but an orchestra-loving ornithology hobbyist whose life is really hard and sad. She forgives Kevin for some reason, and later saves him from being shot in the face by Marv with her attack pigeons. In true spotlight-stealing, pigeon heart attack-inducing form, Kevin sets off some fireworks to draw the attention back to him.
In exchange for all of the presumable pigeon fatalities, Kevin gives The Pigeon Lady a cheap turtle dove Christmas ornament, which is not the same thing as a pigeon at all. Then Kevin gets a truckload of toys from the toy store, as a reward for breaking their window and the Pigeon Lady presumably goes back to sleeping on a park bench covered in bird droppings. Seems fair.
Crazy Pete -- Now and Then.
In this 1995 coming-of-age staple for most American women currently in their late twenties and early thirties, four grown-up women reunite for the birth of their childhood friend's first child. While together, they make a movie in their brains about one summer in the 1970s when they stopped taping down their breasts, kissed Devon Sawa and stopped being scared of old people for no reason.
Like our last two examples, 'Now and Then' character Crazy Pete wasn't really crazy; he was a tired, sweet old man who had lost his loved ones. It isn't until the tail end of the movie that anyone noticed. Luckily, he leaves Samantha (played by Gaby Hoffman and Demi Moore) with some wisdom:
Crazy Pete: "Things will happen in your life that you can't stop, but that's no reason to shut out the world. There's a purpose for the good and for the bad."
Samantha [narrating]: "He gave me the only gift he could: the lesson that had taken him a lifetime to learn. Although I understood the importance of his words, it's only now, looking back, that I understand their meaning."
She probably could have apologized, had it not taken her 20 years to learn a simple life lesson. Rest in peace, Not-Crazy Pete.
Parry -- The Fisher King.
In this 1991 comedy/drama, Jeff Bridges plays shock jockey Jack Lucas, who becomes suicidally depressed after his mean-spirited on-air comments cause a caller to commit a mass murder. While attempting to kill himself, he is mistaken for a homeless person and attacked by a group of thugs. Enter Parry, the homeless hero (played by Robin Williams), who takes a break from his "mission to find the Holy Grail" to rescue him.
Jack decides to help Parry, who is severely mentally ill and haunted by the "Red Knight," when he learns that his mental condition was caused by the death of his wife, in the same mass-killing that he feels responsible for (what a coinkydink!).
After a few years in a catatonic state, Parry awoke with an obsession with the legend of The Fisher King, a man charged by God to guard the Holy Grail. Jack helps Parry find the Holy Grail and a love interest, seemingly curing his mental illness, but the real hero is Parry, who teaches Jack about compassion and the importance of layering.
Roberta Sparrow -- Donnie Darko.
Nicknamed "Grandma Death," Patience Cleveland's character in this confusingly awesome 2001 film wrote the book on time travel. No, really -- the former science teacher at Donnie's school/current local crazy old lady who obsessively checks her mailbox wrote 'The Philosophy of Time Travel.'
Donnie seems to be the only character who thinks she might know something important, and he seeks her help as the tension builds and the date of the end of the world grows closer. Unfortunately when he arrives at her house with Gretchen (played by Jena Malone) to seek her council, he interrupts two jerks who were robbing her and a street fight causes an oncoming car to swerve around Roberta and kill Gretchen. Then Donnie shoots the driver, who was wearing a bunny costume. Oh, yeah, and Donnie has been seeing visions of a talking bunny who predicts the end of the world.
Who is really out of their mind in this movie? While there are arguments from both sides, Roberta didn't shoot anyone. Eh? Eh? #TeamSparrow #TimeTravelMightBeRealWhoKnows