Directed By Tylor Norwood
Starring – Robin Williams, Shawn Levy, Susan Schneider
The Plot – In August 2014, the world was shocked to find out that Robin Williams had died by suicide. For someone who brought so much humor to the world, it was a tragic, traumatic end. But no one knew how much more there was to the story. Left to speculate on Robin’s motives, the media circus spun out further and further, leaving the public in the dark about a complicated and obscured truth: Robin – bright, funny, quick witted – had lost a battle against an unknown enemy: the nearly impossible to diagnose brain disease Lewy body dementia. Knowing the truth can make all the difference. LBD is a disease that, while all too common, is unknown to most, and without a diagnosis causes heightened fear, paranoia and confusion. In the end, Robin may have lost his final battle with dementia, but he succeeded at his lifelong goal – To make people less afraid.
The film is currently not rated
– Revelations. We all know the kind of big screen phenomenon that was Robin Williams. Whether it was his legendary status as a comedian that maintained a consistency of laughter through his feel good comedies, or the the surprisingly jaw-dropping work that he did in deep-seeded drama’s that earned him an academy award, Williams was a tour de force of emotional registry whose work and praise will outlive the very audiences who gave it to him. However, what’s truly indulging in “Robin’s Wish” is the abundance of causes that he took on away from the screen that the movie truly cements as his everlasting legacy, giving us a bigger picture of the kind of impact that only a man with his immense heart could carry. From special forces trips overseas to being one of the most sought after wish fulfillers to children on their death beds, Robin redefined the life of a celebrity, and did so while maintaining that gentle genius that all of us knew him as, but very few ever witnessed in person. Selflessness in its purest form.
– Behind the scenes. As far as cinematic achievements go, a lot of the documentary focuses on his work on the “Night at the Museum” trilogy of films that illustrated him as this bigger than life figure to legends like Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke, or Mickey Rooney, whom he played opposite to. Why it focuses on these particular films is two-fold. First, the background storytelling by director Shawn Levy, who not only became a close and personal friend to Williams, but also ended up directing him on his untimely final picture. Secondly, it’s there where we see the revealing nature of Williams disease, and how it molded him in ways that sometimes ashamed him to keep pressing forward. What’s inspiring about this particular section of the story is the number of cast and crew who kept Robin’s darkest secrets from tabloids, and helped him press forward through what was unmistakably one of his toughest roles to attain. It’s one of the many surprises that the movie reveals about his final days, and preserves an air of sweet sentimentality that much of the picture maintains despite some pretty dark and depressing enveloping’s of Robin’s condition.
– Intoxicating cinematography. While most of the film’s artistic merits are unfortunately left unexplored, the movie does maintain some sharp scenic cinematography in the form of the California countryside as shot by Norwood, which bare witness to his complete control over the production. As a visionary, Norwood captures a collection of mountains and colorful landscapes that documents Marin County as this place that feels about as far from the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood spectacle as you can get, despite their proximity being within a couple of hours. Their captures are every bit ambitious as they are intoxicating with what Norwood is able to articulate, and along the way we are treated to some structures and dedicated art pieces that bare Robin’s name to show his measure of iconic stature in a city not dominated by gimmicks. It gives the film some form of artistic identity that momentarily allows it to escape its small screen feel, and with Robin’s overheard narration comes across as this prophetic presentation that echoes across the beautiful plains.
– Visual storytelling. In addition to the scenic aspirations, the collection of behind the scenes footage and studio owned interviews and scenes marries a complete picture that was worth every penny spent on attaining them, if only for those rare candid moments that give way to something brighter. Particularly, it’s in Robin’s relationships with co-stars that paint a vivid picture of his humanity, but selfishly it was the events in his personal life that I was most engaged in, especially the wedding between Robin and third wife, Susan, which emitted the innocence in Robin that any of us fell in love with. This is very much a revealing documentary, but one that is respectable enough to not feel like it’s exploiting its titular character, and even though documentaries are known for the juicy details that are never before told, it’s consistent positivity is especially refreshing during a year when we could all use nothing but.
– Emotional rollercoaster. Something about documentaries have always made them more relatable to me as pieces of art that I can emotionally invest in. Perhaps it’s the fact that they focus on real life, as to where films typically emulate in fiction. Either way, “Robin’s Wish” brought forth an abundance of ranges and complexities that struck a stirring resemblance to the figure they were conjuring from. Like Robin, there were times throughout when I was happy from the abundance of laughter that felt rich to absorb in him being brought to life for one more day. There were times when I was sad from the shadow left by his death, as well as his inability to find answers on what ailed him. Finally, there were times when I was legitimately angry because of the online culture that have since misdiagnosed him on what truly ended the life of this immeasurable figure. Each of these play a pivotal role in the many directions the story takes, and sneak up on you with precise accuracy that shifts and changes every time Robin and the story need us to, earning a complete picture of feelings that mirrored both Robin’s demeanor in battling a unique form of dementia, as well as the diversity of roles that always challenged and elevated his career.
– Variety of guests. I’ve already discussed Shawn Levy being a key and integral part to the Williams dissection, but it’s the complete ensemble brought together by Norwood that help to articulate the two world’s of Williams, and how both were stitched together with more reality than people knew. On the cinematic side of things, there’s certainly producers and co-stars that come forth and tell their legends of the pioneer who they knew, but for my money it’s the friends, family, and especially Robin’s widowed wife, Susan, who took the cake of interest for me, because they alluded to a man who I’ve only ever heard about, but never experienced. Susan carries with her a lot of grief, but an unmistakable strength that has allowed her to persevere. She speaks about Robin with a smile that is as big and as bright as the sun, and her ability to describe those intimate details between them is both harrowing and haunting with regards to a man illustrated so fruitfully that he’s brought to life with the kind of detail that she and many others exert in their richest memories.
– Important. I’ve rarely ever seen a film with this kind of emphasis on diagnosis, a factor that could’ve saved the life of Williams, but also one that speaks volumes to the audience watching at home to seek healthy living in any way possible. This makes the documentary one that is every bit educational as it is entertaining, for the way the moral messages play so importantly towards the urgency that the film is trying to convey to its audience. This seems beneficial to Williams postmortem, because I believe that he too would encourage the kind of bodily awareness that a fraction of the population seek out, while the rest are clouded in the changes that their bodies are making them aware of. It proves that Norwood works from anything other than a vicarious stance with his social commentary, and cements this appreciation from me as a responsible filmmaker whose biggest goal in producing this film is to provide help above all else.
– Contrasting directions. Quite often, the film feels like two sharp opposing angles of the narrative are fighting for attention, with the loser of the battle receiving a minimal amount of time to state their claim. It’s a Robin Williams documentary about his road to and through fame, but also a scientific delve into the mind forced to endure Lewy Body Dementia. The transitions between them feel rough and very rarely ever earned to the kind of satisfaction that flows naturally as one cohesive piece of storytelling. We definitely do need both in a story like this, but because the war between them undercuts and halts the progression of each because of their desire to make the most of their limited time, it often feels like we don’t get enough from either, and this unfulfilled inevitability starts to seep in to a film with nothing but honorable intentions.
– Too short. This will clearly be the biggest adversity that the documentary faces with its legion of fans with a desire to spend as much time with Robin one more time. The problem isn’t so much that it’s short in the way of being an easy watch, but rather it’s so short that it often has difficulty even attaining that feeling of necessity because it reaches the bare minimum of cinematic run times to even be considered cinema. 72 minutes is the number in question. A figure so brief and inconsequential that it often treats these pivotal moments in Robin’s life and career as afterthoughts to the desired bigger picture; the disease that ended him, and while that creative direction is one I can get behind thematically, it does a huge disservice for first time fans of Williams with a thirst for the other material that is brief enough to be DVD extra’s.
– Cheap production values. It’s clear from the brief amount of credit names to the complete lack of stylish substance that is absent from the film that this was a passion project for Norwood, and while that inspiration is admirable at the very least, it’s faulty in finding an identity for this documentary that allows it to stand out against predecessors. Sure, one could argue that the identity is with Williams’ story alone, but even in a documentary focusing on a particular figure or story, there still needs to be some semblance of production that goes into its presentation to allow a connection with the audience. A fine example is in the medical side of the story, which could use graphs or figures to better convey its information to people who may not fully comprehend medical lingo, and could help better illustrate the rare and confining terms of the disease that we’re only seeing in physical form before our very eyes. Technically, the editing is occasionally rushed, the musical cues are totally meandering, and the occasional dramatizations are a bit over the top for my taste. It’s a series of nagging experiences that keep a good documentary from becoming a great one, and ultimately doom it to feeling like a TV special.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-