Comedy legends Carl Reiner (95) and Mel Brooks (90) and television pioneer Norman Lear (94) sit in a semi-circle, reminiscing about the good old days, singing a nonsensical tune they composed a half-century ago and talking about how they keep engaged and active at this stage of their lives.
- It’s simply awesome to eavesdrop on these icons as they share a relaxed, casual conversation.
- They all look and sound like they’re in their early 70s, not their 90s. Amazing.
The title of Danny Gold’s documentary “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” comes from a joke Reiner tells at book signings and Q&A sessions: “When I get up in the morning, I check the obituaries. If I’m not in ’em, I eat breakfast.”
Gold wisely uses a light touch and keeps things simple in this lovely, consistently inspirational and often (no surprise) quite funny documentary. He bounces back and forth between interviews with about a dozen notable figures age 90 and over, drops in some archival footage and some scenes of the legends performing in recent days and stands in the wings, letting these human hurricanes tell their tales and do their thing.
Comic book hero Stan Lee talks about how getting old is a superhero adventure unto itself. Nobody can explain to you what it’s like to feel old until you ARE old, explains Lee.
Kirk Douglas, interviewed by Reiner just shy of his 100th birthday, talks about suffering a stroke, and how the real battle wasn’t overcoming the physical setbacks — it was dealing with the overwhelming depression that enveloped him every day. It was Douglas’ wife who would tell him to get out of bed, stop feeling sorry for himself and get back to work.
Work is the common thread that seems to keep everyone going. (Of course, we’re talking about some of the most talented performers in show business history. When you’re Tony Bennett, yes, it’s really cool that you’re singing “The Best Is Yet to Come” at age 90. But if you’re a 90-year-old who worked in an office or on a construction site, continuing to show up the job isn’t always an option.)
Reiner is perhaps the busiest of all the greats showcased here. Since turning 90, he has written FIVE books — and tweets more frequently and with greater insight than comics a third his age. He’s also a host of sorts for the documentary. Along with his nephew George Shapiro (producer of the doc), Reiner sets out to find out the secrets to the longevity of his friends, from the aforementioned Lear and Brooks to Betty White (95) and Dick Van Dyke (91).
“If You’re Not in the Obit…” also features some fantastic vignettes about lesser known but no less impressive senior-senior citizens, such as yoga instructor Tao Porchon-Lynch (98); Jim Martin (95), a WWII veteran who still likes to jump out of planes, and Harriette Thompson, who ran and finished a marathon when she was into her 90s. We also see Jerry Seinfeld’s mother at the age of 97, dancing with her younger boyfriend, who is only 92.
Seinfeld, a complete whippersnapper in his early 60s, notes that older people have a greater appreciation for the little things, and agrees with the film’s overall message that one must keep moving forward and never accept old age.
“Even if you get up and just wash your face, you’re doing SOMETHING,” says Seinfeld.
Everyone in “If You’re Not in the Obit…” is doing a lot more than something.
HBO Documentary Films presents a documentary directed by Danny Gold. Running time: 86 minutes. Debuts at 7 p.m. Monday on HBO.