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Review: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You

Think that all documentaries are the same? Think again. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You breaks the mold, and yet still remains very much a documentary, especially since it documents the life of Norman Lear. The document, though, is very much a theatrical approach, which becomes clear right from the opening shot, in which an nine-year-old actor playing Lear morphs into the older version, still very much alive in his nineties, explaining why he wears his trademark chapeau.

And it just gets weirder from there. The celebrity cut-ins are done strangely, George Clooney barely resonating, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham appearing solely towards the end of the film, giving way to the next generation, (although Dunham is quite a few generations after Lear). For a film about a showbiz career, it’s concentrated very much on a specific point in a career, this being All in the Family and perhaps specifically, the parallels between Archie Bunker and Norman Lear (and how much Carroll O’Connor was unlike the outspoken Bunker and often hated the things he said). Rob Reiner appears, much more fleshed out than Meathead, and the effect of Lear and others watching clips, especially of their younger selves creates a sort of a time loop. The film seems to theorize that the end is the beginning is the end, the Lear’s inner child become him and then proceeds to watch a scene in which Bunker, his television representation is watched by Lear, and he tears up and cries when Bunker describes his difficult father (natch, it’s his daddy issues that bring together Lear’s version).

Obviously the naming is coincidental, and this idea is in no way suggested by its co-directors, yet it is difficult not to think about King Lear. At the end of his life, he remarks to his children, (who in many cases are much younger) that the world continues on without him. The final version of Norman Lear, which he encounters through the filmic medium, is that his work will remain even when the man himself will not, a sad crescendo.

[star v=35]