Ninety-five-year-old comedy legend Carl Reiner has a lot more shtick to share before he calls it quits. “Every morning before having breakfast,” he says, “I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed. If not, I have my breakfast.” Never one to let a good idea go south, Reiner parlayed that humorous A.M. confession into an engaging film project.
If you only see one film this week… or next week… or the week after that, do yourself a favor and make sure it’s If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll thank Carl Reiner for good timing and me for pointing you in the right direction. The documentary debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, June 5, 2017, 8:00 – 9:30 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.)
Directed by Danny Gold and produced by Carl Reiner’s nephew and agent, George Shapiro, who also appears in the film, If You’re Not in the Obit proves what fellow humorist Mark Twain asserted more than 100 years ago, that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Carl Reiner, who remains actively engaged as a comedy writer, director, actor, author, raconteur and dad of film director Rob “Meathead” Reiner, researched and introduces a thriving bunch of nonagenarians and a few centenarians who defy negative American ageist stereotypes and encourage the rest of us by their example.
Reiner didn’t have to venture too far afield for his subjects. Some of his closest pals and colleagues–Mel Brooks (90), Norman Lear (94), Dick Van Dyke (91) and Betty White (95)–were more than willing and able to participate. Mel Brooks’ repartee with Reiner on-camera and in vintage animated “2000 Year Old Man” clips is priceless. But even more important is Brooks’ role as Reiner’s nearest and dearest old friend. Lifelong friendships are key to healthy longevity.
Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke’s lives initially intersected on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66). Vintage clips from that sitcom and shared memories recap highlights from their early comedy careers and showcase Van Dyke’s ongoing effervescence and agility and the touching rationale behind his late-in-life marriage to a much younger woman.
In contrast to bubbly Dick Van Dyke, Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee (94) is all business as he recounts unapologetically the trajectory of his transition to comic book writer, publisher, media mogul, actor and nonretirement.
Since my early twenties and throughout my career, I’ve been drawn to and have written extensively about individuals and films about individuals who in advanced age continue to engage, excel and inspire. If You’re Not in the Obit is by far one of the best and most refreshing examples of that genre. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite singer, 90-year-old Tony Bennett, opens the show with a wonderful performance of “The Best Is Yet to Come.”
The film blends no-nonsense life lessons from a fascinating mix of nonagenarians and centenarians who’ve surmounted family losses, debilitating illnesses and depression and continue to dance; practice and teach yoga; sky dive; sing; perform as classical pianists and instrumentalists; act; run marathons; author books; paint; and serve as fashion icons.
Aside from the inspiration and insights garnered from Carl Reiner and his remarkable peer group, there are some younger voices here as well. Longevity expert Dan Buettner sheds light on why some people flourish in advanced age and how the rest of us can do the same. And comedian Jerry Seinfeld caught me, a fellow Baby Boomer, by surprise with his sensitive take on the subject and some serious personal revelations.
“You know you’re getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you’re down there.”–George Burns
I laughed out loud when I read that quote from one of Seinfeld’s role models, George Burns. I also winced a little…because I can relate to it. Burns was in his nineties and sharp as a tack when I was lucky to catch his stand-up routine at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. He had long ago booked, but eventually was unable to perform, a gig at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on his 100th birthday. He died a month after turning 100 on March 9, 1996.
If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, June 5, 2017, 8:00 – 9:30 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.)
No access to HBO? Then you owe it to yourself to find another way to watch and even own a copy of this entertaining, inspiring and timely film. It’s an evergreen reminder, as per feature film director Luis Buñuel, that “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.” –Judith Trojan