'Robin's Wish' Review: A Heartbreaking Documentary Sets The Record Straight On The Death Of Robin Williams

It's been over six years since beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams passed away at the age of 63. Every year since his death, fans have continually paid tribute to one of the quickest wits and most colorful characters that comedy has ever seen. But a shadow always seemed to linger as there was no clear or definitive explanation as to why the actor took his own life. Though reports swirled of depression, continued battles with substance abuse, and even financial woes, a new documentary sets the record straight on what it was that took Robin Williams away from us.

Robin's Wish recounts the final months and days of Robin Williams as he battled with an undiagnosed, deadly neurodegenerative disorder known as diffuse Lewy body disease. Director Tylor Norwood has assembled a portrait of Williams' declining health by way of intimate interviews with his widow Susan Schneider Williams, fellow comedians and collaborators, some of Robin's closest and longtime friends, and the the couple's neighbors in Marin County, California. It's a heartbreaking glimpse into the mental and emotional collapse that Williams endured without having any idea why.

The documentary wastes no time throwing all of the speculation and tabloid headlines surrounding the death of Robin Williams out the window. Almost immediately, Susan Schneider Williams reveals that it was this little known form of dementia that killed her husband. In fact, it was one of the worst cases of the disease that medical professionals had ever seen. Though depression and anxiety comes along with the disease, which is explained and broken down by various medical professionals throughout the film, this wasn't a typical case of emotional turmoil and sadness that drove Williams to suicide. And the insight that follows from those closest to him provides an intimate and agonizing timeline of his deterioration.

In interviews, Night at the Museum franchise director Shawn Levy, The Crazy Ones creator David E. Kelley and executive producer John R. Montgomery remember the challenges they faced when Williams suddenly wasn't operating at his full potential. Rick Overton recalls Williams suddenly skipping improv shows that he used to love so much. His widow also recalls how he began spending less time backstage hanging out in the green room to meet with fans.

Heart-rending are the first-hand accounts of how sensitive Williams was about his worsening condition, something that he couldn't ever get a grasp on because his disorder remained undiagnosed. It was clear to those around him that Williams was losing the confidence and quick wit that made audiences fall in love with him. But many of them felt too nervous about approaching Williams about these observations, thinking that it was too delicate of a situation to address. Even the comedian's neighbors could tell that the last couple years of Williams' life saw him struggling to feel like himself, but all they could do was try to comfort him whenever he seemed to be feeling out of sorts.

The most harrowing and touching anecdotes from this documentary come from Robin's wife, who he met by chance at an Apple Store. Susan's eyes light up when she recounts how they met, and your heart can't help but swell with warmth when you hear a cute voicemail that he once left her while he was out on the road. Along with these stories come insights into the relationships that Williams had built over the years, showing how drastically he changed in the past two years of his life due to this deadly disorder. It makes the final moments that they spent with Williams hit that much harder, especially those who were with him on the last day of his life.

It goes without saying that this is a tearjerking production that packs a powerful emotional punch. But unfortunately, from a filmmaking perspective, it's also an extremely amateurish documentary. There's an ample amount of pointless, repetitive B-roll that is used as a way of creating variation between archival footage/images of Robin Williams and the interviews conducted for the movie. Too often are there shots trying to literally depict the words being spoken in such a myopic fashion. When that's not on display, there are unnecessary aerial and landscape shots of the Williams household over and over again that take you out of the emotional storytelling. Even worse are the schlocky attempts to create a visual representation of hallucinations and paranoia Williams experienced due to his illness. Blurred imagery of Susan walking around the house and cheap effects that manipulate other shots make these moments feel like dramatizations from old episodes of Rescue 911 or Unsolved Mysteries. Perhaps this is due to a lack of resources, because several personal photos and and graphics are also used multiple times. Or maybe the movie just needed a better editor.

What makes these shortcomings so frustrating is that this movie has unprecedented access to those who knew Robin Williams best, and these revealing, thoughtful insights feel like they should have been part of a more polished production. While Robin's Wish clearly has the goal of educating people on diffuse Lewy body disease by way of the screen icon's tragic experience with it, the documentary also can't help but try to dig into various facets of the comedian's career. But because of the film's intended focus, those tidbits feel like incomplete tangents. In fact, while watching this documentary, I couldn't help but wish that a condensed version of what's in this documentary would have been part of the more definitive film Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (available on HBO Max).

But even so, Robin's Wish does have therapeutic value for those fans who were left wondering what drove Williams to end his life. Though Williams died over six years ago, his story never felt like it had a period but more of an ellipsis leading to an epilogue that was never written. But Robin's Wish provides closure, and it reveals that as Williams started to feel more disconnected from who he used to be, he wanted to do for others what he could never really do for himself. He wanted to help people feel a little less scared. And with this film, maybe some people suffering from the same afflictions will learn that they're not alone in their woes, and maybe they'll feel a little less afraid as they confront their own mortality.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10


Robin's Wish is available now for VOD rental and digital purchase.