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Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Review: Robin Williams Come Inside My Mind (2018)

Robin Williams Come Inside My Mind 
Genre: Documentary

Plot: An intimate look into the life and work of the late comedian, Robin Williams, told through the use of archive footage and interviews

'Unbalanced Documentary On Robin That Didn't Go Far Enough'

Come Inside My Mind attempts to explore the highs and lows, ups and downs of Robin's career, his relationship issues and substance abuse and that need of approval and acceptance, which was something that was lacking in his childhood. In a series of never-heard-before interviews, Chicago-born Williams narrates the viewers through as he reflects back on the early years from his humble beginnings of San Francisco where he grew up to become a national TV star on Mork & Mindy through his transition as a movie actor and star where he became a household name around the world. 

After a turbulent 1970s with drug and womanising issues, the death of fellow comedic actor, John Belushi, who was with Williams at the time of his passing, in addition to the birth of his first son, Zachery in the early 1980s became the wake-up call for Robin to change his ways. And to an extent, & for a while, this worked. 

Being the Robin Williams fan that I am, I was keen on this documentary and seeing how it fares and whether or not this film delves into any of his movie work. 

Again, like with 2014's Pioneers of Television: Robin Williams Remembered, it turns out very little attention is paid to his movies from the early to late 1980s & 1990s, but for dramas Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society and Awakenings, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, which are glossed over in favour of his Mork & Mindy TV success and personal life that is given more of an insight. Given that these periods were also the ones most viewers & avid fans are familiar with the most & will know him best for, is slightly baffling. & for a documentary that is supposed to come across as being faithful and showing the various facets, as well as both sides of his story, whilst some people will be happy that any mention of his movie work is kept to a minimal, I for one, thought this was a bit of a letdown. I tuned in in the midst of getting a documentary that was going to be fairly balanced, both in regards to his work as an actor and his personal life that truly does justice to Robin Williams. Yet it turns out this wasn't it & that it never transpired. With that in mind, this imbalance resulted in a documentary that wasn't as thorough and enriching as I would've liked it to be. 

There are several interviews conducted with former chat show host David Letterman, Pam Dawber who co-starred with Robin on Mork & Mindy, comedian and fellow actor Billy Crystal, who was also Robin's closest friend, along with his first wife, Valerie and son, Zack. They were nice & I smiled a few times, but it was nothing too profound. There was also a vague & meaningless interview with one of Williams's former girlfriends, which had me droning off. The film breezes through the years when Robin underwent open heart surgery, his drug addiction up until his unexpected death. 

The title does allude to the fact that it attempts to provide an insight into his mindset, of his thoughts and feelings, which from a human aspect point of view, is intriguing. Yet it is a pity Come Inside My Mind doesn't go beyond that aspect to deliver an emphatic tribute of Robin Williams's life story. 

I would also have liked to have seen a few more of Robin's co-stars & directors who have worked with him, partake and chip in with their own contributions and tributes: Robert De Niro, Ethan Hawke, Forrest Whitaker, Julia Roberts, Dustin Hoffman, Sally Field, Julie Kavner, Ben Affleck, Al Pacino, Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, Nathan Lane, Glenn Close, LL Cool J, Danny DeVito and Kurt Russell all lending their part to the cause. I really wanted to know from them not only what it was like working with Robin, but what they thought of him too. It would have made the film more worthwhile and thorough, and not just by those who know Robin personally. Therefore, Marina Zenovich's willingness to only feature a small and selective circle of Robin's closest friends, relatives, and even an ex-girlfriend of his, whilst choosing not to interview or be it omit any or some of the main stars, directors and actors he has worked with, took me out of this feature, when their insights would have provided further curiosity & pleasure. This was a bummer. 

Other notable absentees are Robin's second and third wives, Marsha and Susan of whom do not get a look in, whilst Robin's son, Zak is the only child that appears on camera, as he reminisces on the good times, as well as the struggles his father faced much later on in life. Valerie shares a few tales, and who speaks of him with nothing but fondness, despite their separation. 

His final years are rarely mentioned and the exact circumstances of his death are still shrouded in mystery, although in all honesty, it's not something that I, as a fan of Robin's, wish to dwell on. I did, however, enjoy seeing the rare footage and photos of Robin, of his impromptu comedy skits & TV and movie work that I was a fan of, especially the one with Billy Crystal and Robin on the set of Fathers' Day. Just seeing Robin over the years before he reached his '60s brought a smile to my face, immensely and of which sort of made up for the lack of transparency at times. 

Being an 'intimate' and celebratory look at his life and less so his career, with the former in his personal life, it's fine - but it is Robin's film career, which is one of the things I was keen on, whereby Zenovich dropped the ball- it just wasn't as comprehensive as I'd wanted and expected, and it is this particular aspect which made audiences and fans take notice of his talents & the joy he brought to millions onscreen. Yet Zenovich, as impersonal and at eased as it comes across onscreen, is reluctant to cover any further ground on this. One prime example is that she nullifies Williams's 1998 Oscar win for Good Will Hunting and his 3 other nominations; rather her approach in storytelling is far too linear and lopsided for a celebrity such as Robin Williams (whose career has been so varied spanning 4 decades), and not very penetrating and remarkable for it to be fully embraced. 

Come Inside My Mind fails to acknowledge his movie career properly and thus approaches it without a shred of respect and in as much consideration that, despite some hiccups, has carried him over the years. Whilst I am glad Zenovich (who won plaudits with her offerings on Roman Polanski and Richard Pryor) focuses on the positive & her absorption of Robin Williams as a man & human being, not just as a star, actor & father, as a whole, this still felt unfulfilling and lacking. I had high expectations that this was going to be THE Robin Williams documentary to topple all the rest that came before it - but in the end, despite the little moments, it underwhelmed me. Take away the footage and this would have little going for it.

In the face of the rare footage and photos, she doesn't go all out, as one would hope she'd do - and that is Come Inside My Mind's biggest downfall. A greater Robin Williams docudrama would have pushed itself even further & gone a little deeper, - but not to the extent it constantly emphasises his personal traumas & turmoil. Some people may be in favour of that & wanting Zenovich to focus on the negative aspects of his life & dissect his mental state to get a better picture of how and why things weren't going so well for him & why he was so unhappy. However, this would have made for uncomfortable viewing for me, personally. 

If I was making a documentary on Robin Williams, I'll definitely take some aspects from this offering, but also to not make it too impersonal & watchable. I'd also make it a four-parter by splitting it into a) his earlier life, Mork & Mindy and his TV work, b) 1980s movies, c) 1990s movies and D) 2000s and an obituary of some kind, whilst also exploring the highs, lows, the impact he had on audiences and fans alike with 2 or 3 small interviews of them, explaining their love, adulation for Robin, along with interview clips from a couple of stars who performed with him. 

Sure, his story, his life, his career-defining decades, cannot be told in the stretch of just two hours as one cannot fit everything in. & yet still, that was an opportunity that filmmaker, Zenovich didn't seize to its fullest.  

If you are a Robin Williams fan, it's still worth visiting and it's a good thing that it chooses to celebrate his accomplishments and the highs, rather than to be bombarded with tales about his drug use, marital woes etc. I also enjoy seeing the old footage and photos. But those who tune in with the expectation of looking forward to his career being highlighted and celebrated a great deal will be marginally disappointed. 

There will be viewers who will walk away from this feeling satisfied with what has been produced, whilst others, like myself, feel that Zenovich should have gone above and beyond. Because of this, I came away from Come Inside My Mind reeling that whilst Robin, himself, might have been happy with this, I felt a little shortchanged. Zenovich wanted to perhaps offer closure to fans, who for many are still coming to terms with what had happened. Yet her efforts here prove she didn't try hard enough. I still left feeling there were more questions than answers. 

4 years on since Robin Williams's passing, despite several attempts, I still await a fulfilling documentary that celebrates his crowning achievements and life as an actor of the past 4 decades, & not just as the wonderful, kind person that he was and is.

Unfortunately, this is not quite it. 

Though the result is more entertaining than PBS's Robin Williams Remembered, which is one thing Come Inside My Mind has over that offering, I can't help but wonder how with a few more additions, it would have been even more substantial. 

If you want a far more thorough, deeper and exhaustive look at Robin Williams, I'd say one is better off reading Dave Itzkoff's penned biography, Robin

For a biographical-based documentary titled Come Inside My Mind on the life and times of one of the most beloved & revered movie actors of all-time, whilst it has its moments which are great to see as a fan of his, it's a bit of an irony that it doesn't amount to anything more than Zenovich's take on Robin's story which feels rather half-baked, when it ought to be resounding.


Pros +

- Never seen before photos and footage, which were nice

- It was nice to hear Robin's voice on the clips, making it come across as inviting and absolute

- Mostly okay interviews

Cons -

- Filmmaker Zenovich doesn't and was probably reluctant to talk to many people, especially actors & directors who worked with Robin, which is a shame

- Any mentions and references of his movie work are brief and limited to only several of his well-known hits, hardly any verbal references to The World According to Garp, The Survivors, Toys, Jumanji, The Birdcage to name. But the biggest omission of Steven Spielberg's Hook really made it even less satisfying. Marina Zenovich doesn't treat Robin Williams's film career with the respect it deserves 

- I wanted more, but I just didn't get it

- Far from Illuminating 

Would I Watch This Again?  a couple of months, years down the line maybe; otherwise no


(score below minus the footage) 


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