Remembering Gene Wilder (2024) Movie Review – An affectionate portrait of a comedy legend

An affectionate portrait of a comedy legend

When Gene Wilder died in 2016 at the age of 83, it was as if I had lost an old friend. I had never met the actor – I was never that fortunate. But as a child growing up in the 80s, he certainly made an impact on me through the movies I adored seeing him in. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein…these are just a few of the movies that developed in me a love of film and a love of the funny, sweet, and charmingly unpredictable actor. 

As news of Wilder’s death broke, I remember asking myself: Where has he been? The last movie I remembered seeing him in was 1991’s Another You, his fourth collaboration with another comedy legend, Richard Pryor. It turned out that he had rarely acted after that movie. At least on the big screen.

The reasons for Wilder’s absence from film in his later years are delicately explored in the documentary Remembering Gene Wilder which walks us through his early years on the stage, his film career, and his life post-Hollywood when a new chapter in his life opened up through his relationship with his new wife Karen Boyer, who he met during the filming of See No Evil, Hear No Evil. 

Wilder was a genuine comic legend. His fans will testify to that, joining the voices of those who knew him best, such as director Mel Brooks, his frequent collaborator following their success on The Producers. Brooks is interviewed in the documentary, alongside other Hollywood directors, producers, and actors who share their memories of working with Wilder. 

The documentary doesn’t offer too many probing insights into Wilder’s early years, though we do learn that a doctor told him never to make his mother angry, lest he should give her a heart attack. He was told to make her laugh instead, which he did, often giving her cause to leave his company because she was laughing so much.

Wilder didn’t only make his mother laugh. He often caused the cast and crew to crack up during the making of his films, including Young Frankenstein, which frustrated Mel Brooks because the hysterics on set interfered with his working schedule. Brooks’s solution? Give everybody handkerchiefs so they could stuff them in their mouths to stifle their laughter. 

It’s anecdotes like the one above that make the documentary so delightful. We are also treated to behind-the-scenes footage of Young Frankenstein and clips that cover most of the movies in Wilder’s career, from his debut film role in Bonnie and Clyde to his penultimate collaboration with Richard Pryor in See No Evil, Hear No Evil.

Not all of Wilder’s movies are given room for discussion. There is no mention of Rhinoceros, Sunday Lovers, or Funny About Love, for example, which is no great loss considering these were the worst movies of the actor’s mostly illustrious career. But we do get insight into a lot of his other films, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with some heartwarming recollections from Peter Ostrum, the actor who played Golden Ticket winner Charlie Bucket.

There are times when you’ll laugh hard while watching the documentary, such is the power of Wilder’s comedic talents. Seeing him dancing on stage with Peter Boyle’s lumbering monster in Young Frankenstein is a comic highlight, as is the moment when he and Richard Pryor pretend to be hard men in front of the brutish inmates in Stir Crazy. You’ll instantly want to watch these films again after being reminded of how brilliant they are.

Tears of laughter are guaranteed while watching the documentary. But you might also shed tears of great sadness too. In his later life, Wilder’s health declined after becoming the victim of Alzheimer’s Disease. Eventually, he lost a lot of his memories, even forgetting the title of Stir Crazy, which we discover via footage of one of his final interviews.

It’s incredibly sad that Wilder eventually forgot some of those movies that shaped his career. But fans of the actor will not forget them. And they won’t forget the brilliant actor who made these movies as funny as they were.

I miss Gene Wilder, even though I never knew him. But at least I (and we) have his incredible catalogue of movies to remind us of the man who will be forever etched in our hearts as Leo Bloom, Willy Wonka, The Waco Kid, Sigerson Holmes, Dr. Frederick Frankstein, and many more wonderful characters besides.

Thanks for the memories Gene!


Read More: 10 Best Gene Wilder Movies

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