I’ve just come from a screening of Marina Zenovich‘s Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind. I was presuming it would be a sad, moving experience going in, and Zenovich hasn’t disappointed. Her film is simple, touching, direct — not a softball portrait that avoids the pitfalls and dark places, but a very comprehensive story of a fascinating whirling dervish and comic firecracker for whom the bell tolled.
Who didn’t love the guy (at least during his 20-year peak period), and who didn’t feel the thud in the chest when his suicide was announced on 8.11.14?
I have to hit Gus Van Sant‘s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (which a critic friend has told me is “a very good, very well acted 12-step movie”) but with Williams on my mind I thought I’d re-post a couple of riffs from the HE archives.
The poor guy had been wrestling with severe depression, probably in part because his heyday was clearly over and he was on a kind of career downswing. I hate to say this but he was. [Update: Also Lewy body dementia.] Life can feel so awful and cruel at times when the heat leaves the room and the candle starts to flicker. The weight can feel crushing and oppressive. And for a guy who seemed to burn a lot more brightly than most of us, certainly in the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. A genius improviser, gifted madman and comic superstar for at least…what, 30 years or so?
Williams hadn’t been landing the greatest films or roles over the past decade or so but from the peak of Mork and Mindy fame until One-Hour Photo…what a run! But this…this hurts. It reminds us that we’re all hanging by a thread in a sense, some thinner or stronger or more resolute than others.
Williams’ best films and performances: The World According to Garp (’82), Moscow on the Hudson (’84), Good Morning, Vietnam (’87), Dead Poets Society (’89), Awakenings (’90), The Fisher King (’91), Aladdin (’92), Mrs. Doubtfire (’93), Jumanji (’95), The Birdcage (’96), Good Will Hunting (’97), Insomnia (’02) — 12 films in all.
The stinkers included Hook (’91), Toys (’92), Jack (’96), Father’s Day, Patch Adams (’98) , What Dreams May Come (’98), Bicentennial Man (’99), RV (’06) and Old Dogs (’09).
His last significant roles were as Dwight D. Eisenhower in The Butler and as a hugely pissed-off guy who’s been told he was only a few hours to live in Phil Alden Robinson‘s The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.
Williams recently starred in The Crazy Ones, a CBS sitcom that bit the dust after a single season. A sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire was reportedly in the works. I’m sorry but that would have been hugely depressing in and of itself.
Williams’ wife Susan Schneider released the following to the New York Times‘ Dave Itzkoff: “This morning I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope that the focus will not be on Robin’s death but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”
7.12.07: In a 7.11 article, Radar‘s Willa Paskin notes that the Robin Williams on view in License to Wed is “a shell of the comedian we once knew,” and re-states that Williams isn’t the “comic genius of his generation” that he was in the ’70s and ’80s.
Quite so, and over the last 18 months or so Williams has gone downmarket. But at least he’s not doing sentimental slop or playing twitchy psychos.’
After rising to fame as the sitcom alien Mork, Williams “thrilled audiences in the ’80s with spastic, mostly improvisational stand-up routines, culminating in his legendary 1987 performance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera house. But at some critical point Williams crossed over to the dark side.
“We suspect it happened sometime in the mid ’90s, when acclaim for his performance in Aladdin perhaps sent the wrong message and positively reinforced comedic stylings just shy of schizophrenia.”
Wait…mid ’90s? Aladdin came out in ’92.
Williams nearly sank himself with sentimental overkill in the mid to late ’90s. Starting with Francis Coppola‘s Jack in ’96, he performed in a series of tender, teary-eyed films — What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man — that made some want to barf and others to reach for the nearest fire extinguisher.
Then Williams did the abrupt 180 into dark parts — One-Hour Photo, Death to Smoochy, Insomnia, The Night Listener.
Then came a brief blessed period in ’05 and ’06 — a funny bit in The Aristocrats and then a starring role in Barry Levinson‘s Man of the Year (’06), which wasn’t miraculous but seemed to some like Williams best part (and performance) since Good Will Hunting.
But right after this Williams shifted over to broad, rube-level comedy with RV, Night at the Museum and License to Wed, and in so doing invited the wrath of Willa Paskin and God knows how many others. I’m sorry.