She wakes up early to pound the pavements of Manhattan, going on all manner of auditions. When she does land a hard-earned gig, it may be no more than one line in a Woody Allen film, for which she might have to work for eight hours straight in all kinds of weather. What the hell—she’s gotta pay the bills.
This account of an actress’ daily life may not be anything uncommon, but it is when you consider that the subject of Jyll Johnstone’s documentary Hats Off is 92-year-old Mimi Weddell. “Rise above it” is this elegant lady’s motto, a mantra which has seen her through a beloved husband dying early and leaving her to raise two children on her own highly creative ingenuity. The fact that both now very grown kids live with her in her monumentally cluttered apartment is telling, to say the least. Wielding a cigarette-holder, Weddell resembles a cash-strapped, less-mannered Katharine Hepburn and has a similar patrician attitude about things, which goes directly against the grain of her children, who would have preferred to avoid incongruously impractical private schools and debutante balls.
Weddell is indeed an interesting character, but Johnstone, a friend of the family, maintains too discreet a distance from her subject, enabling her to rant repetitiously about notions of good breeding and show biz. While she’s undoubtedly the blithest sort of survivor, we want to delve deeper here, to find out exactly how she manages. It’s a question that interests anyone without a trust fund or cushy retirement plan: How does one grow old in New York City? Weddell has worked on numerous television shows, movies and commercials, but, apart from numerous piquant clips and her love of her signature hats, we learn little about her acting experience. There is nothing here as enlightening as was found in the documentary about another film veteran, Who is Norman Lloyd?, nor as compellingly jaw-dropping as anything in Grey Gardens, theatricality and sloppily housed eccentricity aside. Weddell’s son and daughter thankfully contribute mordantly humorous asides to the flamboyance of a mother they obviously both endure and adore.