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Robin’s Wish Review

August 29, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Robin's Wish
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Robin’s Wish Review  

Directed by: Tylor Norwood
Story by: Tylor Norwood and Scott Fitzloff

Susan Schneider Williams
Mort Sahl
Shawn Levy
David E. Kelley
John Montgomery
Dr. Bruce Miller
Dr. Walter Koroshetz

Running Time: 77 minutes
Not Rated

It doesn’t seem right when you stop to consider that it’s been six years since the world lost Robin Williams. And I mean that in multiple ways. Not only does it not feel like six years have passed since news of the comedy legend’s passing shook the world in August of 2014, but it still feels wrong to have lost him so soon and so unfairly. The details of Williams’ death became headline fodder for weeks and left a complicated legacy for those who loved him to come to terms with.

Ultimately, facts were revealed which shed new light on the circumstances surrounding Williams’ passing. The official cause of death was suicide; that much is true. But as was eventually discovered, it wasn’t for the many reasons that were speculated upon in tabloids and serious news outlets alike for a long time. Williams’ death came about because he was suffering from diffuse Lewy body dementia, a rare degenerative condition with no currently-known cure that no one – not even Williams himself – knew that he had.

Robin’s Wish, the new documentary by Tylor Norwood that hits Digital and On Demand on September 1st, seeks to shed light on Williams’ struggle with the condition by documenting the final days leading up to his passing. To do so, Norwood speaks with several of the key figures in his life at the time from Shawn Levy, who was directing him in Night at the Museum 3, to David E. Kelley who was the creator of the Williams-starring sitcom The Crazy Ones. More significantly, it follows Williams’ widow Susan Schneider Williams and talks with friends and neighbors, all of whom paint a heartbreaking picture of how a difficult to diagnose disease can be so effective at breaking down even the most irrepressible of spirits.

Norwood has clear goals in mind with this documentary, and the way he sets out to accomplish them is sharply focused. It often makes me sick to think about how the legacy of Williams has been tainted in some people’s minds due to the way that his life ended. The speculation was that Williams was a real-life trope, the “sad funny man” who made the world laugh while hiding his own sadness. That’s an awful stereotype to reduce a man to, and Robin’s Wish very much sets out to correct that record. Everyone involved in Williams’ life who speaks to the documentary takes pains to point out how this was clearly not the case. Living in their home in Paradise Cay, California, Williams would go out regularly to the comedy club there and often perform after the acts. He loved cycling and he would visit troops to inspire them. And throughout it all, according to all involved here, he was a very normal man who hung out with his less-famous neighbors and who simply had no idea what was happening to him when things started to go wrong with his condition.

Norwood speaks to doctors that talk about Lewy body and how difficult it is to detect. Dr. Bruce Miller of the Memory and Aging Center of UC-San Francisco refers to Williams’ state as the “worst case” of the condition that he had ever seen, and yet symptoms were still easily misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s and the depression brought on by such a thing. Nothing could be further from the truth; as his friend and fellow comic Bobcat Goldthwait says, “His brain was giving him false information” and it was slowly stripping away essential parts of what made Williams who he was.

That brings us to the other goal of Robin’s Wish: to educate viewers on Lewy body dementia. It’s still, despite its role in the death of an icon like Williams, a little-known disease. Schneider Williams has become an advocate and activist in trying to fight the disease, and the case is made many times in the film that as tragic as Williams’ passing is, he’s just one of many people who have dealt with it. It’s noted in the film that suicide is often the end game for the disease, and that over a million Americans alone are afflicted with it. Norwood lays out a clear, concise explanation of what it is through Williams’ story, with the hope that others will have an easier time with it than he did.

And of course, through it all there is Williams’ story. It’s often a difficult documentary to watch, as we hear about how he started to have difficulty remembering his lines on set or his left arm not obeying him properly. But at the same time, we are reminded what an inspiring and loving person he was. There’s a lot of focus on Williams’ relationship with his wife, which shoots down the speculation that he was simply depressed and often provides a counterpoint to the more heartbreaking parts focusing on his condition (though there’s some of that in this portion too, obviously).

There are some minor quibbles that could be had here and there. At 77 minutes, it does feel a bit like this documentary is missing some pieces; no one in Williams’ family is interviewed beyond Schneider Williams, for example. (That may have been their choice, and I’m not going to speculate.) But it’s hard to ding the film too much for this when it’s so effective at reminding us how much of a gift he was to the world. In the end, if this film helps fans remember him more how he deserves and does its part in making the public more aware of Lewy body dementia is, it will have done its job – and on both counts, it makes a compelling case.

Robin’s Wish is available in on Digital/VOD starting September 1st, 2020.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Robin's Wish is an emotional ride of a documentary, examining the final days of Robin Williams' career and setting the record straight regarding the reasons for his passing. Director Tyler Norwood goes in with clear goals to educate viewers on the real reasons for Williams' passing and spread awareness of Lewy body dementia, succeeding on both counts. As heartbreaking to watch as it is inspiring, this is a must-see documentary for everyone who found their lives touched by Robin Williams' comic genius.

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Robin's Wish, Jeremy Thomas