Robin Williams was a complex man full of humor and heart who also had a manic, spontaneous wit that could not be contained. “In my head, my first sight of him was that he could fly because of the energy,” David Letterman recalls thinking after watching Williams perform stand-up comedy. “It was like observing an experiment.”
HBO’s new documentary, “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,” is a tribute to the man and his comedy legacy. The two-hour film is filled with clips of his work (many of them familiar, but just as many that haven’t been widely seen), as well as interviews with friends who knew him best, including Billy Crystal, Pam Dawber, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman and Steve Martin. There are also interviews with his first wife, Valerie Velardi, and the eldest of his three children, Zak Williams.
The new documentary premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was televised on HBO a few days before what would have been Williams’ 67th birthday. The film focuses on the talented comedian and actor’s life and legacy, and on what motivated him to pursue comedy — a move that skyrocketed him to fame and earned him the kind of rock-star status few comedians enjoy.
The poignant film is at turns incredibly funny and heartbreakingly sad as it follows Williams’ journey from a young theater student to the master of club and theater stages, as well as TV and film. Pairing curated archival material of Williams with new interviews, award-winning director Marina Zenovich crafts a thoughtful portrait of a brilliant man who was troubled by self-doubt, insecurities and periods of substance abuse who loved, most of all, to make people laugh.
Fans of Williams have taken to social media to share their thoughts and impressions of the documentary, as well as their abiding love for Williams and his mesmerizing talent.
Twitter user Matt Bean posted a drawing he made following Williams’ death in 2014 and wrote, “The documentary was exceptional in allowing us into this wonderful man’s mind, to see his joys, his love, his laugh, and his sadness.”
Watched @HBO’s #RobinWilliams Doc last night and I’d recently looked at a drawing I made shortly after his passing and I thought I’d share. The documentary was exceptional in allowing us into this wonderful man’s mind, to see his joys, his love, his laugh, and his sadness. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/yiKLcj6XWP
— Matt Bean (@MB_Works) July 18, 2018
Actor and Twitter user Jon Donahue sums up many fans’ response to the documentary: “It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s Robin.”
It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s Robin. pic.twitter.com/fCqs3ueBlD
— Jon Donahue (@JonDonahue) July 17, 2018
And Twitter user Brinton Megan Parker reflects on the sadness of seeing Williams memorialized through the documentary: “It says a lot about Robin Williams that watching a documentary about his life… can make me feel the pain of his loss as acutely as I did four years ago when I first heard the news.”
It says a lot about Robin Williams that watching a documentary about his life (Come Inside My Mind on @HBO) can make me feel the pain of his loss as acutely as I did four years ago when I first heard the news.
— Brinton (🍞 MissusChampagne 🥧) (@BrintonMegan) July 17, 2018
Critics note that the documentary is less balanced than it might have been and doesn’t delve too deeply into Williams’ decline and death by suicide in 2014. Instead, these two hours are packed with far more laughs than tears as Williams is memorialized by friends and family and through his own words, as his voice from archival interviews is used to narrate the documentary of his extraordinary life.
“I don’t tell jokes, I use characters as a vehicle for me,” Williams says of his approach to comedy. “I seldom just talk as myself.”
“Tinged with nostalgia and emotion, “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” conveys the messy complexities of the man, while serving as an unabashed celebration of his work,” CNN notes, while Variety calls it, “a documentary that’s sharp-edged, humane, and deeply researched.” The Los Angeles Times labels it, “an affectionate, sympathetic work.”
Everyone who watches can agree that laughter is cathartic and Williams knew how to make us laugh.
Consequence of Sound sums up the significance of the film this way: “For those who spent years with Williams as a major cultural force in their lives, watching ‘Come Inside My Mind’ is like catching up with an old friend.”
Robin Williams will always be remembered for his unrestrained exuberance and comedic genius — and he will always be missed.