Yes, it’s a bit of a gloss, but a highly arresting one. Efficient burnishing. And it doesn’t really invite anyone into Williams’ mind. At best it offers little flashes of what he felt or sensed during this or that chapter, but it’s mainly a talking-head tour. We knew and loved Robin, he was such a tender soul, he loved being “on” but yeah, those rough times, etc.
This is one fascinating, often hilarious, touching but finally depressing study of a whirling dervish and comic firecracker who flew high and fast for a 25-year period, give or take, and then embarked on an up-and-down journey of his own realm, some of it thrilling or marginally satisfying or unpleasant, portions lessened by addiction and toward the end quite ghastly (severe depression, Lewy body dementia). The poor guy was unlucky, and disease took him down.
Everyone loved and cherished Williams, but no one likes to think too long or hard about what he started to experience when he passed the big five-oh (in the early aughts), and particularly the big six-oh. The sad truth is that he had a glorious run from the mid ’70s (pre-Mork & Mindy stand-up) to the early aughts (his psycho nutter in Chris Nolan‘s Insomnia was his last truly decent role), but after that it was rough sledding.
The doc reminds that when you’re hot you’re hot, and when you’re not you’re not. Old age and deterioration and slowing down are no picnic and worse if you’ve drawn bad genetic cards, so enjoy your youth and health while you can because they won’t last, baby.
Williams nearly sank his film career 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 a 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.
The poor guy had been wrestling with depression, probably in part because his heyday was clearly over and he was on a kind of career downswing. And then came the 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 be crushing. Especially for a guy who seemed to burn a lot more brightly than most of us, certainly in the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.