The problem with biographical documentaries on people who’ve taken their own lives or died tragically is that nearly every interview or piece of footage essentially must build to that final, sad act. Whatever precedes the act is seen through the cataclysmic lens of death. It’s a nearly inescapable structural trap that director Marina Zenovich can’t escape in her moving if single-tracked Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, a documentary that would have been more interesting if it had branched out and followed exciting leads. Instead, Zenovich privileges traditional linear storytelling. That’s a shame, as one can see the possibilities of a film that mirrored the frenetic energy of Williams’ own mind.
The most resonant and heartfelt interview that butts into the infuriating order of this film, however, belongs to Billy Crystal’s. In one segment, Crystal -- perhaps Williams’ best friend -- shares the story of how Crystal comforted Williams’ son Zak, and this one anecdote carries so much more emotional weight than any of the other stories surrounding it. It’s specific, concrete and it conveys both how frustrating and difficult it was to try to be a devoted dad as a road comic and also how tender the connection was between the two men, both fathers trying to juggle it all.
The film’s best gets, besides that Crystal interview, are the blooper reels and uncut stand-up performances, the ones that illustrate exactly how much of this man’s talent we’ve still never seen. We learn that his legendary two-hour set at the Metropolitan Opera House was 25 percent original improvisations. How much of Williams’ life was one-offs lost to time? Too bad the film plays more like a survey of Williams’ life -- more a kind, sweet eulogy than an illumination.