Directed by Marina Zenovich
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind tries to do a little of everything. It’s a look at the life and career, from start to finish, of comedian Robin Williams. It’s an interesting look at the comedian turned celebrity’s career, but it’s hard to differentiate this from any number of celebrity documentaries like the recent Andre the Giant or Elvis Presley: The Searcher. I’d even say that those documentaries accomplished more because they, from my recollection, shared information on their subjects that was previously unknown. As for Robin Williams, much of what we’re told in this movie is information plenty of people have become privy to in the years following his death.
Williams himself was quite candid in interviews and onstage in the years following his severe drug use and certainly in the years following his open heart surgery. We see many of these filmed segments, and the documentary itself seems to add little to this information. We hear mostly from the people who knew Williams as well as from past interviews with the comedian as a younger man, but this all works mostly just to describe his life as a whole. In such a broad perspective the story seems to gloss over or otherwise ignore parts of his persona, struggle and eventual death.
It’s still an engaging movie if only because Robin Williams himself was so engaging. Much of the delight comes from reliving past performances, but the effect is like that of going down a youtube rabbit hole. Williams is the highlight in his own movie, though considering the documentary’s title suggests we’ll take a deep dive into the inner workings of his mind, we really just scratch the surface.
I don’t believe the documentary ever got as dark as I think it would have been had the story attempted to understand Williams’ struggle. It’s not that I know exactly what he was going through, but based on what I know, it sounded grim. One or more people do describe just how much he craved the attention he got onstage (something many comedians are very open about in the wave of comedian-hosted tell-all podcasts), but the movie covers this ground quite quickly. It reiterates that he was a different person offstage, as we know, and in an attempt to mention just about every noteworthy event in his life, it shortchanges most of them.
The documentary covers Williams’ entire life, and yet when it ends I only wanted to know more. There were questions left unanswered and I don’t believe purposely so.
Robin Williams was a fascinating figure and not just because he was so mystifying and magical onstage. His mind moved very quickly, and the opening scene demonstrates this. He’s almost as perplexing a figure (a hybrid of man and character) as Andy Kaufman, and I think his life, as a movie, deserved a little more than a simple tribute. Andy Kaufman’s legacy was thoroughly honored (in my opinion) by the combination of movies Man on the Moon and Jim & Andy, two movies just as out there and even confusing as Kaufman’s own career.
Williams was almost as much a character in his own right. He played different characters onstage, disappearing completely into them, but he dealt with the sadness that such a deep dive might imply in a very different way. Where Kaufman may have gone into a fugue-like state, becoming these new people (the foreign man, Tony Clifton, even the character of Andy Kaufman), Williams seemed just to experience a severe come down when out of the spotlight. It’s as if he similarly couldn’t exist as just himself, but he wasn’t as separated from reality so as to willingly disappear from it completely.
My sense of Robin Williams is that he wanted very much to make a connection with the people and the world around him but didn’t know how. Success as a comedian certainly creates certain feelings of connection, but like the drugs that nearly killed him (were it not for the death of John Belushi) it burns off.
I think that some people who struggle in such a way (as we all do to some degree) cling to a shared reality and hope to propel it forward and some cling to their own, highly subjective, reality. One tries to create shared experiences and the other prioritizes their own. Williams would be the former and Kaufman the latter.
At the same time, what do I know? It just seems to me like they were similar characters, people with similar difficulties who dealt with them in different ways.
Up Next: Woman Walks Ahead (2018), Starman (1984), Trees Lounge (1996)