Film Review: How to Live Forever

This documentary on longevity is more jaunty than illuminating.

Mark Wexler’s documentary How to Live Forever is just as eye-opening as any other on the topic of longevity, but the title promises something it obviously cannot deliver. Had Wexler called his foray How to Live a Full Life, he might have escaped the inevitable criticism. Viewers expecting a film about cryogenics or some other breakthrough will be disappointed.

Wexler (director of Tell Them Who You Are, about his famous father, cinematographer Haskell Wexler) does a commendable job of interviewing a wide range of individuals from all over the world, not only lively seniors but also those working in the field of aging. Everyone from writer Ray Bradbury to comic Phyllis Diller to fitness guru Jack LaLanne talks about the daily regimens and positive attitudes that help them stay “young at heart.” Wexler also hears from poet Marianne Williamson, speaking sensibly about the value of not worrying too much about diet and health; TV-sex-symbol-turned-hormone-replacement-advocate Suzanne Somers, offering her unique advice about dealing with health crises; and Cambridge professor Aubrey de Grey, overly enjoying his “15 minutes” as a life-extension theorist (whatever that is).

Despite the variety of people and opinions Wexler gathers, it would be hard to say he or the viewer learn a whole lot more by the denouement than before the cinematic journey started. Wouldn’t you expect Phyllis Diller to say laughter is the best medicine or (the now late) Jack LaLanne to promote regular exercise? (The doc was filmed a few years ago, so some of the interviewees have since died.) Fortunately, most of these folks are fun to be around, including the scene-stealing (though also now late) 101-year-old smoker-drinker named Buster Martin, and Wexler fairly gives equal time to the fitness types and decidedly unhealthy, long-living marvels.

Wexler himself isn’t as charismatic as Buster yet makes himself the center of the story, starting with his use of the death of his mother as a catalyst for his journey. In this way, How to Live Forever is remarkably similar in tone and approach to The Nature of Existence, last year’s woefully lightweight documentary from Roger Nygard, another well-meaning but naive filmmaker-reporter.

How to Live Forever doesn’t fulfill its titular premise, which is forgivable. It also doesn’t do a whole lot else, which isn’t so forgivable.