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Film Review: "Iris"


The penultimate film from renowned documentarian Albert Maysles, the delightful "Iris" profiles nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel. With her trademark look (owl-like eye glasses, half a dozen gaudy bangles on each arm, and ropes of enormous necklaces) adorning her tiny frame, it often seems a wonder that she doesn't topple over. But it's that playful sense of style that has led to museum exhibitions, photo shoots, interviews, speaking engagements, and an adoring following of artists, writers, and designers who all happily talk with Maysles about how much they adore Iris. It's no surprise, as she's so charming and charismatic that you come away wanting nothing more than to take her out for lunch and a chat.

Maysles breezes over Iris' history, first as an interior designer, then running a business recreating antique textiles (several sitting presidents were clients), and finally doing curating and consultation work for designers and high-end clothing stores. She even has her own line of costume jewelry on the Home Shopping Network. But mostly the film simply follows the style maverick's day-to-day life being, as she puts it, a "geriatric starlet." If Maysles' documentary has a certain shapelessness to it, that hardly matters with Apfel as its captivating subject. It's a lot of fun seeing her do her thing, putting together distinctive, witty, and surprisingly chic outfits. It's a process she likens to jazz: improvising and mixing the latest couture with flea-market finds. I'd call it more like sampling, borrowing bits and pieces from whatever she comes across and transforming it into something completely new. Her superpower is accessorizing.

Iris knows what she likes, and laments the predictability of modern fashion. "I like individuality. It's so lost these days. There's so much sameness, everything is homogenized. I hate it." It's that creativity and sense of playfulness that has kept her invigorated throughout her 90-plus years. In that way Maysles' film is ultimately rather moving, putting forward the idea that perhaps the key to a fulfilling life is never losing a curiosity and affection for the world around us.