More than 40 years after the Carpenters made Paul Williams' "Rainy Days and Mondays" a hit, the flamboyant songwriter, performer, and once-ubiquitous late-night personality is . . . defending the rights of 450,000 songwriters as the head of ASCAP? And, what? Writing music for the next Daft Punk record? These two factoids are enough to perk the interest of even a casual fan of the man who wrote "The Rainbow Connection" for The Muppet Movie in 1979. Yet neither are explored in this documentary. Instead we get manufactured drama about a potentially dangerous but completely benign trip to the Philippines, and reality TV–grade episodes like director Stephen Kessler's assertion that Williams' wife is ruining his and Williams' trip. One could blame poor timing. But the more likely reason is that Kessler didn't want to make a documentary that explored the complexities of Williams' career—from in-demand '70s celeb to has-been addict who's now clean and once more approaching cultural relevance. Kessler, it turns out, wanted to make a film about how much he loves Paul Williams. "And then it happened," Kessler says toward the end of the film, "Paul gave me what I always wanted: a sleepover." Williams is ripe for documentary treatment in 2012, but Still Alive doesn't do its subject justice.
Director Kessler (right) and his subject.
Opens Fri., July 13 at SIFF Film Center. Not rated. 80 minutes.