Robin Williams was probably the funniest person I ever saw live, in person, on stage, or on film. He was certainly a genius and one of a kind, with a mind that if you could get inside of it, would whirring with gizmos and gears. He was fast, not just glib but fast, connecting dots you didn’t think even existed near each other.
Marina Zenovich’s documentary “Come Inside My Mind” is an excellent start in trying to understand what Williams tick and what brought his life to an end four years ago at age 63. After a Hollywood premiere, HBO threw a smaller celebration last night in New York at what is now called the Robin Williams SAG AFTRA auditorium, a beautiful new screening room on West 54th St that fulfills the memory of the old Todd AO Screening Room.
Among the guests were comedians Robert Klein and Lewis Black, who were old friends of Robin, as well as Bryant Gumbel, Jackie Martling, producer Alex Gibney, writer Lawrence Wright, Oscar winner Ezra Edelman, and even Robin’s stand in for 25 years on 26 films, Adam Bryant.
Robin Williams’ life was BIG In every sense of the word, so not everything made it into this film. But Zenovich, who made “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” has skillfully crafted a very comprehensive look at Williams’ life. As a first film on a subject, “Come Inside My Mind” will always be referred back to as the foundation for future projects.
I guess the big news here is that Zenovich persuaded Williams’ first wife, Valerie Velardi, to speak for the first time ever. She verifies that Williams did not leave her for their nanny, Marcia Garces, who became his second wife and mother of his two younger children. Valerie confirms that they were already apart when Robin hired Garces to be his secretary, as well. This a welcome relief especially to those who know Garces; she was never the villain in Williams’ story.
Zenovich adroitly chronicles Williams’ rise to fame from his early stand up work, his time at Juilliard, the surprise success of “Mork and Mindy,” and the long transition to hit movies like “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Awakenings.” One of the highlights of the film is actress Pam Dawber, aka Mindy, as well as rare footage from those early days. Williams’ life grew so out of hand– and you may not remember this– he partied with John Belushi the night he died. It was Robin who was the star witness at the comic actor’s inquest.
That Zenowich captures Robin’s meteoric rise, and is able to give a long look at his original domestic setting with Valerie and young son Zak, give the film a lot of its heft. From there, Zenovich kind of zips through Williams’ movie career (skipping over his Oscar win for “Good Will Hunting”) to get to her third act– Williams’ undisclosed and largely undiagnosed battle with Parkinson’s. She tiptoes around the assessment that he committed suicide and we’re still left with some questions about what really happened.
Robin Williams’ life was complicated, like anyone’s. A couple of things are missing, cut, I supposed for time. There is no mention of his obsessive friendship with shamed Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Robin was loyal to him to the end, even as Armstrong was unmasked as a ruthless liar.
Also, Robin’s great friendship with and devotion to the late Christopher Reeve is absent. When Reeve was injured in his horseback riding accident, it was Robin who rode to the rescue. Many of us here in the press lived through this amazing time, as Robin appeared at Reeve’s bedside right after the surgery pretending to be a proctologist (Reeve said later his laughing from this incident made him want to live). Williams continued to be a steadfast friend to both Chris and Dana Reeve.
We do learn a lot about Williams’ early life, that he has two half brothers, one from each parent. And that his childhood was one of moving a lot and having to entertain himself. He was lucky that his mother, who looks like Lee Remick–blonde, pearls, patrician– was a hoot, with a wicked sense of humor that often surprised her manic son.