Penny Marshall, who is perhaps best known as Laverne DeFazio from "Laverne and Shirley," has directed a fair share of films, including 1990's "Awakenings," which is about comatose patients that experience a brief moment of physical freedom. The movie stars Robin Williams (in one of his less maniac roles) and Robert DeNiro, and it received three Academy Award nominations. "Awakenings," which was hailed by critics and audiences alike, attempts to remind us how precious being alive really is.
"Awakenings" tells the story of Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Williams), who works with a group of comatose patients in New York City in 1969. One of those patients is Leonard Lowe (DeNiro), who has the ability to communicate with Sayer using an Ouija board. After Sayer discovers the success of the L-Dopa drug -- which was used to aid those suffering with Parkinson's disease -- he attempts to use it on his patients to see if it will alter their comatose state. Leonard takes the drug first and "awakens," gaining the ability to walk, talk and socialize. The rest of the film centers around the relationship between Leonard and Sayer as Leonard embraces his new freedoms and experiences the world around him.
After Leonard awakens from his comatose state, he begins spending time with Paula (Penelope Ann Miller), the daughter of a fellow patient. He soon develops romantic feelings towards her. Leonard also causes a stir within the hospital once he has awakened, questioning why he can't leave the hospital grounds. He even asks other patients to join his revolt. This plot line is similar to "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," in which Jack Nicholson tries to rile up a protest within the hospital walls. Leonard eventually convinces Sayer to let him venture into the outside world.
Although the L-Dopa drug is successful, it only works for a period of time. As the film progresses, Leonard begins to develop twitches and experiences body spasms. Realizing that he is going to return to his original comatose state, Leonard informs Paula that they can no longer spend time together. However, before fully returning to his original state, Leonard convinces Sayer to film him so that his experience can help future research. Eventually, all of the patients return to a comatose state.
"Awakenings" generated mainly positive reviews from the critics when it was released; it has a 90 percent fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Roger Ebert of the "Chicago Sun Times" gave the film four out of four stars, calling the performance by Robin Williams one of his "best" to date (as of 1990). Ebert also stated that DeNiro gave a "virtuoso performance" throughout the film. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, but it didn't win any Oscars. "Awakenings," which was released on Christmas Day in 1990, earned $417,076 during its opening weekend, even though it was only shown on 12 screens. Overall, the film generated $52,096,475 in domestic revenue during its theatrical run.