Synopsis: An intimate portrait of Robin Williams and his invulnerable spirit, Robin’s Wish is the story of what really happened to one of the greatest entertainers of all time – and what his mind was fighting.
Stars: Susan Schneider Williams, Shawn Levy, John R. Montgomery, Rick Overton, David E. Kelly
Director: Tylor Norwood
Running Length: 77 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Some days you’ll never forget. The day Robin Williams died was one of them. I know that it may sound strange in the grand scheme of life to mourn a celebrity death but Robin was one of the first stars I remember growing up knowing and recognizing. Encountering him while I was a child as the Genie in Aladdin and the title character in Mrs. Doubtfire to becoming an adult and graduating to his less funny work in Insomnia and One-Hour Photo, I felt like I could chart my life, certainly my movie-going life, though him. So thinking back to that day in August of 2014 when I got a text that asked me if I’d heard that Robin Williams had died will always bring a flush to my cheeks. That night, I watched The Birdcage because I hadn’t seen it in forever and I wanted something that represented him well – solid comedy, solid heart.
In the days, months, weeks, and years since Robin left us, we’ve learned more about what he was suffering with that led him to commit suicide at the age of 63. Though many assumed at first it was due to drugs or depression, it was revealed that although Robin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease it was actually Lewy body dementia that likely led him to take his own life. The implications of this are complicated and complex, requiring far more information that can be provided in a simple movie review. Still, it gave a name and an explanation to what many of his close family and friends had been unable to pinpoint until after he was gone.
In the new documentary Robin’s Wish, Robin’s widow Susan Schneider Williams and director Tylor Norwood lay out this diagnosis and provide informative details about the series of events that, in hindsight, showed as early warning signs. Interviews with several of those that knew him well in addition to neighbors in Marin, CA where he called home most of the time further color in the lines of the Robin off-camera that many of us didn’t see. It’s a sweet, if not all-together enlightening, look at the actor that was beloved by many but struggled valiantly in his final years to stay afloat.
Those seeking an in-depth overall look at the life and times of Robin Williams won’t find it here, that’s been covered and done well in the 2018 documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind as well as several nicely researched biographies. Although a brief overview of his early days at Julliard with classmate Christopher Reeve and their lasting friendship is mentioned, the majority of the film follows his later years with Schneider Williams, his third wife who he married in 2011. More of a memory book on their life than anything, it definitely paints a picture of serenity in their union and how much they meant to each other…but it’s notable that none of his children are interviewed, seen, or even mentioned at all. There’s not even a whisper of them when Schneider Williams was recalling how devastated Robin was when he found himself in failing health. It all just seems, well, odd. Like a piece of a difficult puzzle had been purposely left out.
What was nice to see were memories of Robin not from the usual suspects. Instead of gathering a host of celebrities and recognizable names, Norwood interviews next-door neighbors, cycling buddies, and old comedy friends from back in the day. Again, maybe this was something to read further into but I found it nice to hear from others that didn’t know Robin from the red carpet or movie sets but from seeing him walking his dog or taking out his trash. Sometimes that’s when you get to know a person the best. The film takes a sharp turn as it heads toward the finish line when it shifts to being all about Schneider Williams and her efforts to bring awareness to Lewy body dementia. The jaded critic in me felt this smacked of infomercial-level filmmaking but there’s still a sincerity to her that appealed to me on a personal level.
Robin Williams left a large gap in the hearts of many movie fans and a larger one in those of his loved ones. The movie never quite makes it clear what his “wish” was but raising awareness for this tragic disorder would surely be something he’d be a supporter of. The film takes time to show his efforts with the USO and wounded veterans and his time with Comic Relief is well-documented. It’s sad that he’s not here to help in the fight for a cure but perhaps this tiny film will inspire greater visibility to the cause.