Tag Archives: Robin Williams

Big Love

Robin’s Wish

by George Wolf

Even as we’re still reeling from the shocking death of Chadwick Boseman this past weekend, Robin’s Wish takes us back to August of 2014, when Robin Williams’s suicide sent similar shockwaves.

In the years since, Robin’s death has often appeared as a testament to the danger of chronic depression. But with this film, director/co-writer Tylor Norwood’s main goal is allowing Robin’s widow to correct the record.

Depression may have touched Robin’s life, but that’s not what ended it.

Susan Schneider Williams explains that an autopsy revealed that Robin suffered from diffuse Lewy body dementia, a buildup of proteins in the brain. Always fatal, the degenerative disease can cause anxiety, self-doubt, delusions, an intense lack of sleep, and drastic paranoia.

As sad as the ending is, Norwood and Schneider Williams make sure we see the genius of Robin’s talent and the “bigness of love” in his soul. The joy he took in bringing smiles to others is touching, as is the Robin and Susan love story that began when one of them (guess) wore camouflage pants to the Apple store.

The film’s overview of Williams’s career is satisfactory but, for the most part, a rehashing of information. The really glaring hole here is the absence of any Williams family member beyond Susan. The reason for this is unclear, but outside voices would certainly have broadened the context.

But Robin’s Wish is indeed worthwhile for a more complete understanding of a legend. The final days of Williams’s life are re-defined with tenderness, clarity and purpose, framing a once-in-a-lifetime talent in an entirely new and tragic light.

Don’t Cry, Sad Clown

Misery Loves Comedy

by Hope Madden

Is every clown really a sad clown? In his debut as a documentarian, actor Kevin Pollak seeks to find the answer to that question by asking it (or variations of it) to 50 or so of the brightest comic minds of the day.

Who? Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Martin Short, Jimmy Fallon, Janeane Garofalo, Judd Apatow and dozens of other stand-up comics and comedic writers and performers. What Pollak wants in return is a glimpse into the shared psyche of the funnyman.

Who were their influences? When did they realize they were funny? What’s it like to bomb onstage? To kill? They’re interesting enough questions and sometimes the answers are fun to watch, but the sheer volume of responses almost requires that the film remain superficial.

His doc would have benefitted had Pollak narrowed down the interviewees, perhaps focusing solely on stand-up comics. We also hear from film directors, sit-com actors and one radio morning show. The breadth only draws attention to the lack of depth.

And yet, there are ways in which the cast feels very narrow. The group is – whether inadvertently or not – pretty white and male. Pollak may simply have raided his own personal phone book, calling in favors from friends for the film, but the result is breathtakingly one sided. He talks with 5 or 6 women, one of whom (Whoopi Goldberg) is not white. He also talks to one male (Kumail Nanjani) who isn’t white.

So, 40+ white guys tell us about the context of being funny. Presumably this is not because of some deeply held belief of Pollak’s, but that doesn’t excuse it. Forget that whatever thesis he may be trying to put forward is irredeemably skewed by this, the fact that anyone could direct a documentary about stand-up comedy without including the point of view of one African American male – no Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan – is astonishing.

Plus, honestly, the film itself is almost never actually funny. He talks to fifty funny people about being funny yet catches almost no comedy on film. What?

In the end the film is dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, and I’m sure Pollak’s heart was in the right place. It’s just that nothing else was.


Trilogy Finale … No, the Other One

Some trilogies come to a close with dragons, gold, tiny heroes, legendary foes and Ben Stiller. Wait, what?

Yes, though it may have flown under your radar, Stiller’s Night at the Museum series comes to a close with its third installment. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb completes the arc begun in 2006 when Stiller’s night watchman Larry Daly learned that, after sundown, the exhibits at New York’s Museum of Natural History come to life. (So basically, Toy Story in a museum setting.)

In 2009, Larry and his crew broke into the Smithsonian. This time around, when the golden tablet that reanimates the exhibits night after night begins to mysteriously corrode, the team heads to a London museum to repair the device and save everyone.

Truth be told, this is a series that has been sweet, imaginative but disposable from its inception.

Much fault lies with the series’ director Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Big Fat Liar), an unrepentant purveyor of anemic family fun. The Museum trilogy represents the best of his body of work. Still, he substitutes a busy screen and abundance of characters for actual pacing and energy.

The talent – Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and others – creates likeable, rascally characters, and most draw at least a chuckle or two during the adventure.

We’re to learn that life is about letting go as Larry recognizes his son’s impending manhood, though nothing feels genuine or heartfelt. But why start now? When Levy expanded Milan Trenc’s educational children’s book to a feature film, he borrowed a concept and lengthened it with some inside jokes, some cheap theatrics, and lots of dated gags, but little in the way of heart. Its subsequent sequels rehash the same basic concepts in new museums, and because of an underlying lack of creativity and abundance of coasting on the comic timing of the cast, the sequels have all been about as entertaining as the original.

The concluding chapter offers some coincidental tear jerking as Robin Williams delivers lines more moving because of their real-life context than their importance to the film. There are some other mildly amusing, well placed gags and gimmicks, and an awful lot of rehashing. If you and yours enjoyed the first two installments, the third promises more of exactly the same. The rest of us can overlook the third episode, exactly as we did the first two.


Who Wants a Cocktail?

The Face of Love

by Hope Madden

We owe a lot to alcohol. Just one example of the gifts booze gives graces our multiplexes and independent cinemas weekly, because nearly every movie theater now contains a bar. This means that audiences who would not spend money on traditional concessions – that is, an older crowd – are more apt to spend their leisure time at the movies. This, in turn, creates more demand for grown up fare onscreen. Not just more character driven or dramatic storytelling, either. Older crowds want to see stories that relate to them, performed by grown-ups, and the financial success of films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel only guarantees the trend will continue.

This isn’t always a good thing. For every Amour there’s a Grudge Match, but at least we get to see an extension on the careers of really talented actors, like Annette Bening and Ed Harris, portraying star-crossed lovers in The Face of Love.

Bening plays Nikki, five years widowed from her beloved husband Garrett (Harris). Her needy, also-widowed neighbor Roger (Robin Williams) hopes to woo her, but she only has eyes for Garrett. Luckily enough, she runs into his doppelganger at an art gallery.

Yes, Garrett’s exact duplicate also lives in LA, visits the same museum, is single and lonely, and falls for Nikki.

The love of your life dies and you meet an exact replica. What do you do?

Is it a universal question or a ridiculous contrivance?

The latter, it turns out, but thanks to the sheer force of talent both Harris and Bening bring to the project, it is hard to turn away.

Harris breaks your heart as the good guy who falls for this mysterious new lady in his life. He’s lucky, though, because his character – a nice guy in for a heartache – is a little easier to play.

Bening’s drawn the shorter straw, but she handles the entire task quite well regardless of the lacking character development on the page. Her uneasy joy, repressed emotion, and fragile calm all help to make the character and her actions feel almost real.

What’s utterly and irredeemably unreal is the plot, co-written by director Arie Posin, along with Matthew McDuffie. But if you drink enough while you’re at the theater, you’ll hardly notice.