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Remembering Gene Wilder movie review (2024)

The movie doesn’t offer much critical analysis of Wilder’s creative or personal choices. Even for a film about a guy who was, by all accounts, a decent chap who brought joy to the world, this is a borderline hagiography–and that’s too bad, because Wilder was a complicated, fascinating person. He clearly had an ego as big as that of any of the legendary artists he worked with. He was catnip to women: married four times (always quickly); no biological children, but an adopted daughter from his second wife Mary Joan Schutz’s previous marriage. Schutz divorced Wilder after “Young Frankenstein” because she thought he was having an affair with costar Madeline Kahn, but it was another castmate, Teri Garr, that he ended up dating after the split. None of this is in the movie.

Gene Wilder seems to posthumously narrate parts of his own story, thanks to tracks lifted from audio books (a technique also used in the half-hour documentary “Gene Wilder: In His Own Words,” as well as other nonfiction celebrity bios, including “Listen to Me Marlon”). There are also interviews with Webb; Brooks; Carol Kane (his co-star in “The World’s Greatest Lover”); Alan Alda (a friend); Wilder’s cousin Rochelle Pierce; Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz; and musician-actor Harry Connick, Jr., whose connection to Wilder is unclear, but who offers sharp insights, including this description of Wilder’s voice: “It was almost like the way a wise person would speak to you from on top of a mountaintop.”

The editing (also by Frank) is smooth within each section but chunky overall. The movie lurches from one phase of Wilder’s life and career to another. The quick fade-ins and fade-outs make it feel like the commercial TV version of the movie, minus the commercials. Some key works are represented by full-length clips, others by behind-the-scenes material that seems to have been pulled from DVD extras. Brooks is such an entertaining storyteller that the movie gets sidetracked by him. Fans of both entertainers will have already heard most of the anecdotes about their collaborations, but it’s still fun to hear Brooks tell them again. 

The film is held together by Wilder’s eerie bright energy, which is palpable even now, years after his passing. His eyes are haunting, and haunted. There are a lot of closeups, still and in-motion, that capture the sadness Wilder endured and subtly communicated to viewers, on top of the hilarity he was known for. 

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