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Thursday, May 23, 2024



“It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren’t: Delightful, funny, scary exciting, and most of all, a genuine work of imagination.”

– Roger Ebert on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Remembering Gene Wilder is a wonderful documentary where I felt I was, “In a world of pure imagination,” exploring the life of an astonishing actor who was one-of-a-kind.

The documentary begins with Gene’s voice and reminds viewers of the many doors that were opened in Gene’s world. Directed by Ron Frank, this documentary covers various projects Gene was involved in and highlights entertaining twists and hidden pleasures on movie sets with Gene.

The film begins during the days when Gene worked with Mel Brooks, and his early days on Broadway in New York where he worked with Anne Bancroft.

Remembering Gene Wilder caused me to remember fondly how curious I used to be about Gene’s acting style. He had a way of being unpredictable which was part of his genius and incredible ability to spread happiness through his comedic ways. Gene once said, “Being on stage was a thing that saved me from myself.” While practicing his craft may have saved him, it was a also a true gift to his audiences.

The mesmerizing exploration in the documentary provides a chronological order of events which include interviews with celebrities and filmmakers. Gene had a keen vision of excitement that was like no other, and Brooks elaborated on this when he stated, “When he got excited, he was a volcano.”

I have always been particularly fond of the many movie memories of Gene where he was a “volcano.” He was able to portray empathy, pride, courage, misdirection, and craftmanship in a meaningful way. From my perspective, Remembering Gene Wilder is a mosaic of the unique authenticity in his acting style.

When reminiscing about Gene’s personality and traits as an actor, his 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory still delights whenever the film is revisited. Peter Ostrum played Charlie Bucket in the film, and he discusses he landed the role of Charlie at the last minute, and how working with Gene is a memory he will forever cherish. He elaborates on Gene by saying, “He was always doing something unexpected. Even if it was going down, three steps coming back two.” Gene’s colleagues learned to love his creativity and artistry. Remembering Gene Wilder details Gene’s role as Willy Wonka with a great deal of specificity.

Ben Mankiewicz, Alan Alda, Michael Gruskoff, and others contributed commentary about what made Gene and his films unforgettable. The fact that there was always laughter in his many personalities in all his projects is truly memorable. The discussions make this experience feel like a walk down memory lane of Gene’s life. The documentary highlights his projects through various cinematic eras including his projects with Richard Pryor. Their comedic chemistry in films like Silver Streak (1976) and Stir Crazy (1976) was amazingly successful because of how well their senses of humor blended.

Despite Gene slowly losing his memory, his loving heart was always there. The entire film is simply wonderful and uplifting due to the many reminders of Gene’s talent and nature. The final few minutes of the documentary create one of the saddest endings I have ever experienced. In the end, there is a light and Gene always found the good… no matter how difficult, challenging, or detrimental an event was for him. He loved his wife Gilda Radner (who died in 1989) and he also loved his second wife Karen Boyer (his widower). Gene loved life for what it was.

Remembering Gene Wilder shows audiences how much Gene put himself into the stage, into his movies, his friends, and his colleagues, and how he always had a touch of nostalgia that inspired many. Four stars.

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Tarek Fayoumi
Tarek Fayoumihttp://movieswithtarek.com
Tarek Fayoumi is the creator and lead critic of movieswithtarek.com. He also contributes to Medium.com, is an approved critic of Bananameter, and a member of the Chicago Indie Critics (CIC) and Independent Film Critics of America.


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