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in ‘Hats Off’ an extraordinary documentary that talks about the life of Mimi Weddell. A woman well past her prime – if age is a factor – but whose surviving spirit keeps pushing in her acting career and life.

Director Jyll Johnstone follows Mimi Weddell over the course of 10 years to bring onto the screen all of the eccentricities of this extraordinary woman. The approach is candid and unapologetic because whatever is in Mimi’s mind will be said as it is. After all this iconic New York actress has no time to make apologies for the way she thinks and feels about her essence and acting career that began at age 65.


"Hats Off' to an elderly dame" review in Washington Square News

Washington Square News:

By: Matthew Margini

Posted: 3/28/08

That a 63-year-old woman could give birth caused comedian Patton Oswalt to dismiss science as being "all about coulda, not shoulda." Such words gnaw at Mimi Weddell, who treats her age as just a minor impediment to stardom, glamor and theatrical nobility.

The new documentary "Hats Off" examines Weddell's mystique from a number of entertaining angles, but doesn't necessarily share (or preach) her unique perspective, which is at times stubbornly airy and self-obsessed.

Weddell is 93 years old. She has been acting her entire life, but only full time since she was 65, when her husband died and, faced with a mountain of bills and responsibilities, she decided to reach for the stars. This is her idiosyncratic worldview, the hard wisdom of age smeared with Wite-Out and overwritten by a child's whimsical crayon, the kind that would pen ambitions to be president or an astronaut. For Weddell, delusions of grandeur are replaced with delusions of glamor and a yearning to always be "belle of the ball," the radiant sun on screen or on stage.

Though she has not quite achieved leading lady status, her anachronistic elegance coupled with her (literally) do-or-die work ethic have made her popular among directors and photographers looking for an old lady with class. She truly lives for the moment of theatrical splendor and photogenic bliss, suspended between a surprisingly robust routine of rehearsals, auditions and, that's right, gymnastics.

But there is also family time, which is where the film veers off into far more interesting territory. Her family doesn't really like her, and she doesn't really like them back. She lives in a Manhattan apartment that would be suited to her luxurious taste, were it not also crammed with the clutter (and family) of her considerably more down-to-earth daughter Sarah. As the film reveals, the upkeep of Weddell's fantasy world comes at the direct expense of her relations with other people. She's self-absorbed and a little more than malicious toward those who do not (or, perhaps more accurately, cannot) share her attitude.

Thus the film mercifully avoids hagiography. If "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" has taught us anything, it is that 90 minutes of myopic glorification is not the route to take. The most interesting thing about Mimi Weddell is not the holy philosophy she espouses through words - particularly the phrase "Rise Above It," she has rather tackily written on the floor of her kitchen - and actions obviously impressive at her age, but the fact of her existence. She is anachronistic, drawing languidly from an old-fashioned cigarette holder, and wearing, as the title suggests, some truly extravagant hats.

She is, of course, something of a free spirit, rejecting some of nature's heavier chains. And she is also oblivious, insulated and insensitive, the kind of woman who is nobody's grandma when she has been called upon to be one. The world needs grandmas, and the world also needs old women of defiant self-empowerment. She makes a fascinating trade, and the movie rightfully lets us know that a trade has taken place.

Matthew Margini is a staff writer. E-mail him at

© Copyright 2008 Washington Square News

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Davis Michael Arlen
(Canobie Films)

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