The more irresistible the cliché, the less we should trust it. Such turns out to be the lesson left by Robin Williams, so singularly gifted, such a tireless presence in the movies of the 1980s, ’90s and beyond. After he had committed suicide at his northern California home in 2014, coverage of his death wrote itself. Here had stood a unique comic actor, once world-conquering but lately not so much, prone to depression and addiction with — the media dutifully reported — money problems too. Tragic but self-explanatory. The snag, as set out in the sad, compassionate documentary Robin’s Wish, is that this barely explained his death at all.
Instead, Williams was felled by the cruelly degenerative Lewy body dementia. Crueller yet was that he never received a diagnosis while alive — so his decline seemed to him an unknowable curse. The symptoms were many and bleak, but for a man whose trademark had been synaptic firework displays of free association, the blank spaces he met even memorising lines were especially horrifying.
Director Tylor Norwood’s film is modestly scaled, a loving correction of the record rather than attempted biography. Yet it tells us more about Williams than the anguished fact of his illness. Clear too is that for all the decline of his career, he had been content before his body betrayed him, idyllically married, doing improv nights in his everyday hometown. The message is gently repeated. Look beyond the headline.
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