Robin's Wish Review
Like so many of us, I grew up watching Robin Williams films. I wrote about my relationship with his films in part when comparing The Fisher King and Welcome to Marwen, but it’s hard to quantify the connection you have with the films you saw as a child. I remember clearly sitting in the car with my much older brother, hearing the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack and being obsessed with the words spoken (which made no sense to me at the time, I had no context for any of it) by the Genie from Aladdin. The speed, delivery, wit, and range of voices and impressions were transfixing. Williams was a genius, and a treasure, and his death hit me hard. The reports of his suicide came fast, with assumptions made about his mental state, alcohol, drugs and having a bipolar condition… the typical things people assume comics are afflicted with.
Robin’s Wish attempts to correct some of the misconceptions around how Robin Williams died. His wife, Susan Schneider Williams, appears and was clearly heavily involved with this. Not an actor herself, but a gifted artist, Schneider’s IMDb credits mostly consist of daytime talkshows and documentaries about her late husband. This documentary emphasises the point that Williams craved normality when he wasn’t working. His neighbours were regular people, and he lived in an affluent but normal neighbourhood, riding his bike and regularly appearing at a comedy open mic night where he was always guaranteed a spot. He seemed to have found a happy place in the world despite his previous struggles with mental health and addiction, which was mostly behind him.
So why did he die by suicide? Director Tylor Norwood decides to answer this question early in the runtime. Williams was dealing with something called Lewy body dementia (LBD), an often misdiagnosed type of dementia that causes not only memory loss but also physical afflictions, hallucinations, paranoia, depression and anxiety. And it does so in such a way that the person with the condition will have little understanding or recognition of what is happening to them. Death by suicide is tragically common with this disease. He had previously been diagnosed with early Parkinson’s which was treated unsuccessfully, allowing the LBD to continue to impact his brain.
Alongside Williams’ wife, directors, actors and friends all give their perspective on his genius and what they witnessed during his declining health. There are occasional clips of Williams talking, photos of him during his life, footage on the set of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb intercut with information on his illness provided by doctors and neurologists. Unfortunately, though it is interesting and at times emotional, there is little to keep you interested. Once we learn the real reason for his death, the interviews and memories become a bit repetitive and it struggles to hold attention. The limited footage of his work lends it a low budget feel, especially when intercut with what feels like stock footage of traffic and people on bikes to illustrate certain moments of his life.
The beauty of Robin’s Wish, beyond the exposure of his condition and illness, and the interviews with his rich friends, are the stories of his philanthropy. He spent a great deal of time visiting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sat with injured soldiers in hospital on their worst days. He gave these men and women something special, spent hours with some of them and really seemed to absorb their pain and problems. You can see in these moments what he pulled from when playing his characters, he was a true empath, and that keenness to always give every ounce of himself to others took a toll on his health. A better documentary would tell more of these stories, giving us a better idea of who he was, rather than medical jargon that we have little hope of really understanding. Although Robin’s Wish has some moments that are enlightening and heartfelt, it gets bogged down in medical details. Struggling to hold up for even its short runtime, making it one for fans more than the casual viewer.
Robin's Wish is released on digital and on demand on all major playforms from January 4, 2021. Find out full details here: www.robinswishfilm.com