“Remembering Gene Wilder”


Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (8/10)

I find it ironic that sometimes it takes something serious, like a documentary, to showcase the somewhat less than serious abilities of someone gifted at comedy, like actor-writer-director Gene Wilder (1933-2016). But that’s just what viewers can expect from director Ron Frank’s reverent but often-hilarious tribute to this iconic talent, one whose accomplishments in film, on television and on stage haven’t always received the kind of recognition that they deserve. As documentaries go, this offering largely plays it straight in terms of its content and structure, exploring Wilder’s roots in Milwaukee and chronicling his rise to fame, told in chronological sequence. But, despite this conventional approach, “Remembering Gene Wilder” offers viewers much. The film features a number of recent interviews with such collaborators as Mel Brooks, Carol Kane and Eric McCormack, as well as friends Alan Alda and Harry Connick Jr., Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, wife Karen Wilder and an array of Hollywood production professionals. It also includes ample clips from Wilder’s films, including “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), “The Producers” (1967), “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971), “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” (1972), “Blazing Saddles” (1974), “Young Frankenstein” (1974) and “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” (1989), along with his guest appearances on television’s Will & Grace (2002-2003). And then there’s plenty of archive video and still photograph footage of Wilder’s family, friends, influences and co-stars, those who helped shape him and that he, in turn, helped shape. Most importantly, though, this offering examines what made Wilder unique as an artist and as a private individual, someone known for his singular vision as a comedic (yet vulnerable) actor and as a compassionate, generous colleague toward those he loved and worked with. There’s also a touching segment examining his profound but bittersweet marriage to wife and co-star Gilda Radner (1946-1989), a heartbreaking love story that brought out these personal qualities in abundance and in a very high-profile way. The result is a surprisingly eye-opening look at its subject, revealing sides of Wilder personally and professionally that many outside of his inner circle may not have known. The overall approach of this offering may not be particularly inventive, but the result is well worth a watch nevertheless.