A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Few documentaries match subject and filmmaker as perfectly as “Iris.” Fashion icon Iris Apfel and documentarian Albert Maysles were well on in life when he set out to make a verité portrait of her: she in her early 90s, he in his late 80s. Both were quintessential New York characters with their own senses of style. Each possessed an obvious zest for life as well as a well-developed, self-deprecating sense of humor.
Iris reportedly wasn’t interested in being filmed…until she met Al Maysles. His charm evidently won the day, and brought out her own. The film, in a sense, is not just a record of her career and flamboyant contributions to the worlds of interior design, fashion and costumes. More subtly, it’s also a document of her convergence with Maysles. Their chemistry only becomes visible in a few scenes where the camera and her attention turn to him, but it animates the whole film, giving it a suppleness and warmth that are as ingratiating as the personalities on view.
Iris herself is a filmmaker’s dream. Born to Jewish parents in Depression-era Queens, she learned early on that she wasn’t pretty, but was told by a mentor that she had something more important: style. She remarks later in the film that the girls who were pretty had nothing once their looks faded. But she had worked and learned things that transformed her and would remain with her even as she reached her tenth decade.
Her style has made her into the equivalent of a walking exclamation point. With her trademark ultra-large round black-framed glasses, angular frame and swept-back white hair, she could be the creation of a great cartoonist. But her self-creation is never-ending, because the basic look is constantly expanded and refashioned by her choices in clothing and accessories.