Hats Off doesn't lack any imagery of, or commentary from, its subject, 93-year-old character actress Mimi Weddell. We see her wandering about inside and outside her Manhattan apartment. We hear her ruminating on her life and an acting career that took flight at the tender age of 65. We see her taking various acting and dancing lessons, enduring grinding auditions, and showing off her formidable hat collection.
Clearly she's a character. We know this mainly because she and director Jyll Johnstone want so desperately for us to believe she's a character. "I love illusion," says Weddell, which, if she weren't 93, would probably sound like just about any other actor.
Despite her years, and her quaint biography, in Hats Off Weddell becomes little more than a character – someone who happened to be at the right place at the right time. As the movie grinds along, we start to suspect there's not much else there. While Young@Heart made several performers of a certain age ripe with feeling and depth, Hats Off leaves the viewer wanting to know more.
Johnstone has plenty of access to Weddell, but refuses to dig deeper than the actress' basic story. Thirty minutes into the film, we know nearly all the filmmaker and her subject want us to know: Weddell is a distant Mayflower descendant who never seemed happy with her modest station in life until her husband's untimely death.
His death, though, freed her from a traditional family life to live out various fantasy worlds as a bit-part actress in low-budget thrillers (Student Bodies) and TV shows ("Law and Order," "Sex and the City"). She even became a media darling when New York magazine named her one of 2005's "50 Most Beautiful People in New York."
If nothing else, Weddell and the movie remind us how Americans are constantly willing to reinvent themselves. In an interview, her daughter Sarah, who lives with her mother and brother, says Weddell's acting career "gives her more license to be over the top," before adding, "I don't know where the anger comes from ... but it's there."
The problem is Johnstone is unwilling to tap into this idea, or anything else that promises a richer story.
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