Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Movie Review: Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Marina Zenovich.
It’s not hard to make a documentary about Robin Williams that hits an emotional sweet spot. While it’s been four years since his death, it still seems fresh – as it often does when people die at too young an age, and in tragic circumstances as Williams did. Director Marina Zenovich does a good enough job of providing a surface level view of Williams life and career – and yes, but the end you may well find yourself crying, as you hear his friend’s recollections of their final interactions they had with him, and illnesses that so affected him in those final years. Yet, you would think that a documentary called Come Inside My Mind would, you know, go inside the mind of Williams – and this film never really does that. It does feature a lot of clips of interviews with Williams – even ones where he wasn’t constantly joking and putting on a show – but that seems to mainly be in the early sections of the film. By the end, it’s basically talking heads talking about Williams, and clips from his work – both the stuff that made the final cut, and the brilliant insanity that often did between takes. Like many docs on a subject like this, it feels like its skimming the surface – albeit, in a satisfying way.
The film presents Williams’ life in chronological fashion – from his quiet childhood with a strict father, and a goofy mother – where he was raised as an only child, despite having two half-brothers that he rarely saw. The film talks about how he got into acting, and his early work – but it isn’t long before we’ve flown ahead in Mork & Mindy, and then throughout the rest of his career. In many ways, the film feels like a career retrospective, with personal details thrown in.
Not that the approach in itself doesn’t work. There is a wealth of great footage here that even if you love Williams, you’ve never seen before – his insane improvisations on Mork & Mindy, which would be too profane for TV shows, clips from him doing standup, and even footage from the set of One Hour Photo – a film that Williams delivered a terrific, subtle, quiet performance – although he was as nutty as ever between takes. Director Mark Romanek talks about how he would just let him go – sensing that he needed to get that all out so he could be as subdued as he needed to be. Whatever the process, it worked.
I do find it curious what they decide to highlight, and what they decide to leave out – it almost feels like if they could get behind the scenes footage, they’d use it – and if not, then no. Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia doesn’t get a mention, and neither of Hook, Jack and others – despite the big name directors attached. Dead Poets Society is only trotted out at the end in the most obvious (but still effective) way imaginable.
I wish there were more personal stuff in the documentary – or that it delved a little deeper. It talks about his marriages, but only in cursory ways (only his first wife appears in the film), and his son mentions briefly how sad it made him that his dad always felt the need the be “on” for a group of people, instead of just being himself. It mentions the death of John Belushi – that happened hours after Williams last saw him – but pulls away before getting too deep. If you want to know more about Williams the person, I think Marc Maron’s interview with him on WTF is more enlightening than this film.
And yet, the film is still good. You are limited when making a doc about the material you have, and the material Zenovich has here is fascinating and enlightening into Williams the performer, and his process. Less so about him as a person – even if, the final act of the film has many people recalling him in the final years of his life. Those interviews hit the emotional spot they are going for. I just think there is a deeper film to be made here – and maybe, one day, we’ll get it.

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