Directed by Jim Pasternak
Jonathan Winters, whose wild improvisational abilities blazed a new path in standup in the 1950s and 60s, is also a serious and impressive painter, as evidenced by the many Miro and Dali-inspired canvasses shown in this documentary-cum-mystery-cum-whatever. While the first half is full of Winters's characteristic adlibbing, riffing on the crew and whoever he happens to encounter while filming, including his famous fans (Robin Williams, Jim Carrey), it then veers off into chronicling director Pasternak's efforts to get some of the comic's works into MOMA. Then one of Winters's paintings is stolen, and he informs Pasternak he's been cursed by a witch doctor and has lost both his sense of humor and ability to paint. The director (who's on screen almost as much as his subject) attempts to help Winters and retrieve the painting, resulting in a bunch of seemingly staged scenes and skits that get progressively less believable, featuring some familiar faces either as characters or as themselves, including SNL alum Nora Dunn and the Arquette siblings. For (some) further explanation, you'll have to stay for the credits (which include "story by Jim Pasternak").
Winters's life is dramatic enough for a documentary, even an unconventional, freewheeling one, from his struggles with mental illness to his artistic aspirations. But while it's fascinating watching him and getting a peek into his demons and disappointments, the film's odd detour, and ending, are confusing instead of illuminating.
Opens February 11 at the Quad Cinema