Film Review: Lunch

Ingratiating, if too short, record of a Hollywood institution anyone would be happy to attend.

Oh, to be a guest, or even a fly on the wall! Since 1989, every Wednesday, a group of Hollywood show-biz veterans have gathered for lunch to gobble deli sandwiches and saltily share jokes and reminiscences. Their number includes comic legends like Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner, as well as lesser, but just as enduring, lights like Gary Owens, the imperishable “Voice” from “Laugh-In’ and countless cartoons, and game-show host Monty Hall. Behind-the-scenes guys like director Arthur Hiller, who recalls how often he was confused with Arthur Miller, “M*A*S*H” producer John Rappaport, and writers Arthur Marx (son of Groucho) and Academy Award veteran Hal Kanter are also in this juicy, if highly crusty, mix.

In Lunch, director Donna Kanter (Hal’s daughter) trains her camera on these weathered faces as they josh and jostle for attention. Their combined years in the business must amount to centuries and their credits range from blockbusters like Love Story to the cartoon series “Johnny Bravo.” At their ages, health is of course an issue, and Hall admits that the lunch’s opener usually consists of talk about bowel movements, urination and diabetes. Deafness is another issue, and it is surmised that if the guys were seated in various positions, due to their respective faulty ears, no one would ever hear anything.

Once all that’s out of the way, however, the stories and shtick wonderfully tumble forth, and it’s a rich cornucopia from which much of our country’s comic heritage is derived. Caesar in particular is revered by the group for his formidable early-TV achievements, but the man himself, now looking startlingly wizened and frail, once an admitted monster of ego, modestly states that it took everything he had to keep up with writers like Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Reiner and Mel Brooks who all toiled with him. There’s some inadvertent humor as well, as in an interview with Kanter in his office, backed by the bound scripts from his incredibly lengthy career. You peruse the titles of those films—Road to Bali, Pocketful of Miracles, Move Over Darling, Dear Brigitte, Blue Hawaii, et al.—and realize he sure ain’t Billy Wilder, and how mediocrity, not genius, endures in Tinseltown. (Okay, he created the groundbreaking TV show “Julia,” for what it’s worth.)

Amidst the copious laughs, there is some sadness, especially due to the now troubled state of the Motion Picture & Television Fund which offers aid to vets like these, as well as Alzheimer’s and such striking certain of the men’s longtime partners. But, as the imperishably wonderful and sage Reiner states, “We all know what’s coming, but there’s never been a death that couldn’t use a little humor.”