Telling us that a famous comedian was actually a sad clown crying out for attention and acceptance to drown out self-doubt and depression is hardly a revelation. That’s as much of a cliche as rock stars dating models. Heck, it’s practically the entire backbone of Marc Maron’s podcast.
What Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind does to try and rise above the cliche is mostly yield the floor to, well, Robin Williams. Presumably stitched together from a wide array of older interviews, voiceover from Williams is used to narrate his life (posh upbringing, emotionally distant dad, comedy-prone mother), career (from Juliard-trained struggling actor to stand-up comedian to worldwide star), and ongoing battle with inner demons (substance abuse and mental health). In fact, it’s astonishingly far into the documentary before we hear anyone other than Williams speak, at which point the more expected biopic doc elements come into play with the man’s famous and sometimes not-so-famous friends and family members weighing in via talking heads.
While it is at times helpful to hear Billy Crystal attest to Williams’ commitment to and need for their friendship or to get Mork and Mindy co-star Pam Dawber’s impression of him when he was a star on the rise, inevitably Come Inside My Mind is at its best when it sticks true to its title and uses Williams own voice to examine his inner thoughts. There’s precious little time devoted to chronicling his specific successes and failures. Indeed, the majority of his most famous films are relegated to a quick montage and certain parts of his family life (such as his first marriage) are addressed head-on whereas other parts (such as his third-marriage) are barely acknowledged.
Plenty of time, howoever, is spent observing his constant struggle to find a happy place in life. A mind which worked so lightning fast on stage turned in on itself away from the stage, resulting in a man who was just as prone to switching between joviality and melancholic silence as his happy (clean-shaven)/sad (beard) film choices would lead you to believe.
The highlight of the doc, for me, is when Williams’ desire for professional validation is juxtaposed against a Critics Choice Awards clip from the year he was nominated for One Hour Photo. There were only three total actors nominated in the category. Two of them tied and had to share the award. Williams wasn’t among those two. However, the winners – Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis – don’t really know what to say in terms of an awards acceptance speech. So, they invite Williams to speak for them, who, of course, launches into a head-twistingly hilarious parade of impressions, put-downs, and physical comedy. The entire room erupts into riotous applause and laughter, unaware they are witnessing Williams’ entire life crystallized at that moment. To keep from crying, he made everyone laugh.
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind is currently available to stream on HBO Now.