REVIEW: Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (2018 – Documentary)

Poster – HBO

The following is a review of the HBO Documentary – Robin Williams: Come Inside my Mind.

For no reason, in particular, I rewatched Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come the other day. It is a fantasy-drama from the late 1990s that is memorable for its unique look as it showed audiences a different version of the afterlife. It is a film about the immortality of the human soul, the idea of soulmates, and it is also a film that pays particular attention to a character who died by suicide.

In the aforementioned afterlife fantasy-drama, Robin Williams plays a character that chooses to travel to hell in search of his wife who died by suicide after she lost both him and their two children. When he finds her, he gets an opportunity to get through to her and get her out of her diseased headspace. His wife, who suffered from some kind of amnesia in her hellish afterlife, eventually saw the light.

I’ve thought about this film a lot since Williams died by suicide in 2014. When I rewatched What Dreams May Come the other day, I thought about what those closest to him would say to snap him out of it, if they knew the road he was heading down. I thought about his well-being. I thought about the goodbyes he never said, and the loved ones he left behind. Needless to say, it ended up being a tough film to rewatch.

“We are about to enter the domain of the human mind.”

With Marina Zenovich’s HBO documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, which is a documentary portrait of Robin Williams, I had hoped that we would get to know more about his headspace. The subtitle of the documentary, I thought, promised something fairly in-depth. But, in reality, the subtitle referred to a line from one of his comedy sets back in the day when he was an energetic and popular comedian with no off-button.

“Come inside my mind, and see what it’s like when a comedian eats the big one.”

You get a lot of that here — clips from his hilarious stand-up sets, memorable scenes from his most well-known films, and star-making scenes from Happy Days and Mork and Mindy. If you, like me, are more interested in the more serious and, arguably, darker themes that a portrait of Robin Williams may shed light on, then you may end up being slightly disappointed by this documentary, which is a very traditional and predictable cradle-to-grave documentary of a beloved comedian.

As such, What Dreams May Come is never discussed or shown. Poor reception to some of his films and behind-the-scenes issues are not the focus of the documentary, and those topics are merely brushed over. Furthermore, the dark cliche of the sad clown and the notion that comedy comes from pain is frustratingly kept out of sight, except for a few lines about how laughter is a drug. When, in the documentary, Robin Williams describes stand-up as a survival mechanism, we get much closer to the type of documentary that might have left a greater impression.

Although the first half of the film is guided forward by the subject of the documentary via narration assembled from interviews, before long the talking-heads take over. Of the talking-head interviews, Pam Dawber and Billy Crystal provide us with the most interesting anecdotes about the beloved comedian who we all miss. Crystal takes us through his last conversation with Williams, and he also plays us some funny phone messages that he received from Williams. Pam Dawber gives us some interesting tidbits about his headspace. She mentions how different he seemed when he was on CBS’ The Crazy Ones, and she talks about his reaction to John Belushi’s death.

Much of the documentary takes a hands-off approach to Williams’ death, before, in the last couple of minutes, the documentary uses a Joe Rogan interview with Williams’ friend Bobcat Goldthwait to tell us what really happened to him — the diagnoses that affected him and such. And that is about as much as we get to learn about his headspace.

At the very end, I thought we might get to see some footage from What Dreams May Come, but, instead, we are shown the Carpe Diem-scene from Dead Poets Society. I love that film, but it is such a predictable end to a much too safe documentary. But even though it is a traditional cradle-to-grave documentary portrait, it really is a treat getting to relive and enjoy many of Williams’ unforgettable performances on screen and stage. Although the documentary was disappointingly superficial, safe, and unambitious, it had plenty of love for its subject. That may not be enough for everyone, but, for some, it will be exactly what they need.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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