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‘Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind’ is a moving tribute (review)

July 14, 2018

‘Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind’ is a moving tribute (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,” premiering at 8 p.m. Monday, July 16, on HBO, is a lovingly crafted tribute offering many laughs, a few tears, some intriguing insights and just a constant swarm of warm memories. Director Marina Zenovich’s moving two-hour film works on many wonderful levels, but where it comes up short is precisely in the exploration suggested by the title.

The documentary’s attempt to probe the depths of this dazzlingly agile comic mind hits on several surface observations that, while certainly valid, are not terribly original or startling. In this one area, “Come Inside My Mind” always seems content to stop at the starting gate. It’s a cautious approach that doesn’t at all fit the audacious spirit of its subject.

The sharply paced documentary opens with “Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton asking Williams about that legendarily lightning-quick comedy brain. “Do you think faster than the rest of us?” Lipton says. “What the hell is going on?”

Zenovich makes an effort to answer that question, digging into Williams’ childhood and finding the psychological origins of a manic mastermind that frequently found brilliant expression in stand-up performances and film roles.

She’s digging in the right spots, no doubt, yet we always feel that the filmmaker should be digging deeper as we follow young Robin from Marin County, California, to Juilliard to comedy club stages to “Mork & Mindy” and stardom.

The meteoric journey was not without a dark side, and that dark side hardly is ignored in this film. The Emmy-winning Zenovich (“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”) wisely opted not to use a narrator for her documentary, letting Williams and those closest to him guide us through what often were extremely public ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks, joys and sorrows, stumbles and recoveries.

There were addiction bouts with cocaine and alcohol. There were the two failed marriages. There was a continuing battle with self-doubt. There was no shortage of pain.

“It’s a never-ending struggle,” Williams says during a passage drawn from one of the many interviews used by Zenovich. He’s talking about creativity, but we sense he’s talking about every aspect of his life, and, again, we want to know more.

That’s not to say there isn’t a degree of perspective in this luminous portrait, which sheds some light on how he lived and, yes, how he died (in 2014, by suicide, suffering from the disease Lewy Body Dementia).

While the shock of his death is recalled vividly in “Come Inside My Mind,” the film is much more about finding reasons to celebrate his life. And there’s no shortage of those, either, as we’re reminded by glimpses of his stand-up act, outtakes from “Mork & Mindy,” appearances on talk shows, moments from “Comic Relief” specials and scenes from such films as “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Awakenings,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The Fisher King,” “Aladdin,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and, most movingly in this context, “Dead Poets Society.”

Among those interviewed for the documentary are Billy Crystal; Whoopi Goldberg; David Letterman; Steve Martin; Pam Dawber; Eric Idle; Lewis Black; Williams’ first wife, Valerie Velardi; and their son, Zak Williams.

Their heartfelt contributions add mightily to the film, yet, as a study of a master comic mind, it’s nowhere near as masterful as it should be.

Still, the smiles are many, and the company is delightful. “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” is never less than engaging and poignant.

“My first impression of him was that he could fly,” Letterman says. He remembers that moment as an illusion created by Williams’ incredible energy, intensity and talent. But the glory of Williams’ career is that, time and time again, he proved he could indeed fly to amazing heights.

And this is the Robin Williams that this touching film wants us to remember — the one who could fly.

REVIEW

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

What: A documentary about the late comedian and actor.

When: 8 p.m. Monday, July 16.

Where: HBO

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