Hats Off

2008, Movie, NR, 84 mins

Review

HATS OFF
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The face may be vaguely familiar, and if the name "Mimi Weddell" doesn't ring a bell it will after you've seen Jyll Johnstone's affectionate documentary portrait of this unstoppable nonagenarian model and actress.

The patrician-looking star of countless print ads, TV cameos and a surprising number of schlocky horror movies, long-time New Yorker Weddell realized her dream of becoming a star (of sorts) after the death of her husband, Dick. Until then, her life was defined by the needs of her family -- she and Dick had two children, Sarah and Tommy -- and a life lived well beyond their means. Dick worked for RCA/Victor while Mimi indulged her great love for the theater, at least until the bills came due. After Dick was fired from his beloved job of 18 years and sank into a deep depression, Mimi had no choice but to find work on her own, taking two low level secretarial jobs and avoiding promotion so she'd have time to go out on auditions. When Dick died, Mimi felt she no longer had to answer to anyone (on the morning of his death, she simply sent Sarah to have her hair done), and pursued her theatrical dream with a vengeance. Mimi even stopped to audition for something called DRACULA'S LAST RIGHTS on the way to Dick's memorial service, and got the part. Since then, Mimi's been unstoppable. With her cigarette holder in one hand, a lavender bag from Bergdorf's in the other, and no patience whatsoever for slow walkers, Mimi buzzes about New York City, having her hair done at Elizabeth Arden, attending dance classes and singing lessons, and going out on audition after audition after audition (casting agents claim Mimi's willingness to go out on every call and go-see accounts for her edge over her elderly competition). She's a fascinating character who embodies the poise and grace of a bygone era, and a self-absorption that can be easily mistaken for pluck and can-do optimism. A Mayflower descendent whose theatrical sense of self seems modeled on THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, Mimi has some very definite ideas about how one should live one's life, most of which could have emerged from the mouth of Auntie Mame and landed on a needlepoint throw pillow ("Rise above it!" is a favorite maxim).

But her drive to "dance as she walks through life" has caused a few casualties, namely the affections of Sarah and Tommy, who seem more content to treat Mimi (and they do call her Mimi) as a frustrating but endearing eccentric than a parent. Mimi treats them with a thinly disguised contempt; she considers them dull and "earthbound," and is clearly ambivalent about having her children living back home. She openly expresses her disappointment that Tommy wasn't disciplined enough to go to MIT and be a scientist (he's a computer analyst), and when Tommy understandably went into therapy, Mimi considered his looking for help a sign of weakness ("I'm not a crying person. Tommy and Sarah are crying people.") Though she seems sweet, Sarah and Tommy both say Mimi's an incredibly angry person who curses profanely in her sleep, but it's never clear what that's all about. At a certain age, Mimi avers, there's no point dwelling on the miserable things in life. Johnstone seems more than happy to oblige, helping her subject stay on the sunny side of the street, even when interesting shapes lurk in the shadows. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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