Jack Lalanne shows off his biceps as director Mark Wexler lifts his own camera
How To Live Forever
Directed by Mark S. Wexler
Written by Mark S. Wexler and Robert DeMaio
Music by Stephen Thomas Cavit
Run Time: 94 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
By the end of the upbeat “How To Live Forever,” everybody begs Mark Wexler to stop worrying about dying and just live a little, for christsakes. You feel his stress.
Isn’t enough as good as a feast? And is a feast actually any better? Eventually Wexler plumps for the former notion, though he gets to eat a lot of hot dogs on the way.
In fact, so unexpectedly therapeutic is his longevity quest, it could well be 2011’s “Babies,” only this time it’s a journey around humanity’s serene second childhood.
Wexler owns up to being a health-conscious, pill-popping, sushi-loving Californian with a marked passion for all things Japanese, including his wife, and his youthful energy belies his fifty summers. “I’m actually 107,” he quips—a healthy sign.
A former photojournalist, nowadays Wexler is a kind of movie anthropologist. His films are quirky personal odysseys that try to answer life’s persistent personal questions. His “Seeing Double” (about twins), “Me and My Matchmaker” and “Tell Them Who You Are” (about his Oscar-winning cinematographer dad Haskell Wexler) all won awards.
His efforts to grill the world’s oldest humans for longevity tips are exhausting. The arrival of his AARP card and his artist mother’s death together send him noodling around Okinawa, Las Vegas, London, American and Japanese retirement homes, and even a slice of France, to ask how to live over a hundred-and what’s in it for you if you do.
Eventually, writer pal Pico Iyer asks Wexler why he’s still obsessing about it. “Because I just want more!” cries Wexler, peevishly. “You’re like a child in a restaurant, greedily ordering more, not realizing the bill will be huge,” scolds Iyer.
“But it’s not death I fear as much as the un-cool trappings of old age: Early Bird specials, senior discounts, Metamucil, bladder control issues, Viagra…” frets Wexler. It’s a fear that has since abated. Now he’s focused on living in the now.
And well, who doesn’t fear Early Bird Specials and earlier bedtimes?
His designated cusser and Cockney marathoner Buster Martin (aged 104) cites “a fag and a pint” as his immortality tip. The 122-year-old Jeanne Calment of Arles, France was a chocoholic testament to guzzling wine and Gauloises, and triggers a Wexler rant:
“I take supplements and don’t eat red meat and yet I might succumb to stomach cancer tomorrow! It’s just not fair!”
Neither Martin nor Calment give a rat’s ass for self-restraint, a fact that makes Wexler appear restless and anal by comparison.
But this wrapped in 2009, so nowadays neither give a rat’s ass about anything. RIP.
After four years with the oldest people on earth, Wexler has relaxed quite a bit. He wakes up and smells the hot dogs. He worries less about blueberries, he says.
The many comics in his longevity quest include fitness guru Jack Lalanne (who died at 96, RIP) pulsing carrot juice, and comic Phyllis Diller (92) cracking wise (“You know you’re old when your walker has an air bag…” “Best contraceptive for the old? Nudity.”)
And you may treasure Miss Senior Arkansas (81) getting warned against the Miss Senior America pageant in Las Vegas by her Little Rock pastor because of the temptations of Sin City. “But we don’t do swimsuits. We have a ‘life philosophy’ category instead,” pageant organizers reassure the Medicare-plus contestants.
So now Miss Arkansas is getting married. “Of course I’m older than my boyfriend, but he can drive at night. That’s always a plus when you’re over 80.”
Among Wexler’s inspirations: an Okinawa granny of 104 proposes marriage and rubs his head for luck, and Eleanor Wasson (100), luminous survivor of author of the memoir 28,000 Martinis and Counting, who glows onscreen like a forty-year-old Appletini.
Wexler also joins a Vegas funeral convention with Elvis and Marilyn. Undertaker Thomas Lynch sums up the 21st century American way of death: “Caskets resemble IKEA flat packs, music is always life affirming, and someone declares closure just before the Merlot runs out.” Oh, and you can click the new Pet Loss option on Grieving.com, then go bar hopping with the body. Any body.
This riotous assembly also takes in a laughing Indian guru and Alcor Lab, where optimists willingly hand over $150,000 dollars to be freeze-dried, anticipating the Alcor officer’s confidence they’ll be having “one great giant heckuva party when they come back to life!” Or asking for their money back, maybe?
“What?” yells the world’s third oldest living woman Gertrude Baines several times when asked why she thinks she has lived to 115. “Ask the Lord because I sure don’t know,” she yells back after finally hearing the question. It’s clear that what keeps this feisty old lady waking up in the morning is wanting to be first oldest.
When she adds “Get outta here!” at Wexler’s persistent questions, you see him wondering where that serene aura went.
Eventually, pals Iyer and Pulitzer-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold get franker still in efforts to get Wexler to lighten up. Iyer even urges him to get over himself and seek pastures new, so Wexler jumps into an Icelandic volcanic pool.
Sci-fi author Ray Bradbury (87), who could use a little Botox, tells him to stick his negative thoughts in his mental trash bag. Gold prescribes him a diet of high-cholesterol Oki Dogs.
Tom “Grim Reaper” Lynch also pushes the Gold standard: “The one place I never had to take a body from was a hot dog stand.”
In fact: don’t worry, pour on the ketchup. This is one recipe all centenarians hand out, from the singing great-granny Edna Parker (114) in Indiana, to Cyrus Wong (96).
Other Answers to Life’s Persistent Question truffled out by Wexler: Cyrus flies kites and fishes. Seventh Day Adventists take Sundays off. Okinawa’s centenarians fish and dance. All long-lifers enjoy life. Japanese octogenarians make home porn movies, as “late bloomers” – and yes, they’re glacially slow porn movies.
And soon enough it’s clear the whole point of living longest is that it’s pointless unless you’re having fun. You may finish Wexler’s little-film-that-can deciding you don’t want to be first, second, third, or thousandth oldest: just the happiest.
We end up solidly, all too solidly perhaps, on the side of foodie Jonathan Gold, who brazenly admits: “Potato chips for me are what daffodils were to Wordsworth.”
Wexler’s way: let’s hear it for potato chips, growing old, and carpe diem.