Hats Off: Jyll Johnstone’s Docu about Mimi Weddell

“Hats Off,” a feature-length documentary, profiles the beauty and eccentricities of Mimi Weddell, the extraordinary 93-year-old actress.

In its upbeat approach, the film is a nice companion piece to the docu, “Young@Heart,” which is released right now by Fox Searchlight.

With the style and grace of Katharine Hepburn, the smoky wit and wisdom of Dorothy Parker, and her own personal philosophy, “rise above it,” Mimi Weddell is an iconic American original, rising above the mundane, difficult confines of her own daily life to fulfill her dreams. (Her very name connotes class and admiration).

“Hats Off” captures the essence of an unusual woman, named at age 90 by New York Magazine as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in New York,” whose full-time acting career began at age 65 upon the passing away of her husband, and whose daily routine mocks the traditional image of old age.

From grueling 14-hour days at cattle call auditions to her weekly gymnastics and dance workouts, Mimi Weddell exudes an all-American “can-do, will-do” attitude in the face of life’s trials and tribulations, and moves through her challenges with grace, encouraging us all to be more than we are.

Shot over the course of 10 years, by the award-winning director Jyll Johnstone, (“Martha & Ethel,” “Throwing Curves”) “Hats Off” covers a time span when most seniors are planning their funerals and estate bequests. Instead, Hats Off follows the breathtaking pace of Weddell, a bohemian free spirit now forced to share her east side Manhattan apartment with her two more traditionally-minded grown children and a grandchild. Like most families, their relationship is complex, and the mother-daughter/mother-son dynamic adds a fascinating layer of depth to an already compelling and entertaining film.

When Mimi’s husband Dick dies, “leaving nothing behind but bills, poor man,” she does what she has to do to stay afloat, even attending an audition on the way to his memorial and landing the lead role in the cult film Dracula’s Last Rites, which marks the beginning of her career. Since that time, 25 years ago, Mimi has been seen in print ads for companies Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Juicy Couture, and Nike, to name a few; in photo spreads for Vanity Fair and Vogue; on TV series including “Sex and the City” and “Law and Order.”

She appeared in feature films like JUlie Taymor’s “Across the Universe,” the Will Smith star vehicle “Hitch,” and Woody Allen’s lovely comedy of the 1980s, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” starring Mia Farrow as an abused housewife, plunging into a surreal world of dreams that Mimi has achieved in real life!

Throughout, the helmer makes a valid, significant point, namely, that Mimi Weddell isn’t a star and never wanted to be one. She just wants to work–and live life to the fullest.

An examination of family relationships, love, and ultimately the dreams which drive us, “Hats Off” is both a compelling and entertaining documentary that truly inspires, urging us to celebrate the underdog, and the Mimi in us all.

“Hats Off” is a Canobie Films Production starring Mimi Weddell.

Directed by Jyll Johnstone and produced by Jyll Johnstone & Michael Arlen Davis.

Co-starring Sarah Dillon, Kit Dillon, Tom Weddell, and Anna Weddell.

Running Time: 84 Minutes.