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Review: 'Walter' doesn't learn any real lessons from its elders

Hunter Weeks' documentary on supercentenarians (people 110 years old or more) spends too little time on historic context.

October 10, 2013|By Gary Goldstein
  • Juana Bautista smiles a greeting to visitors in "Walter: Lessons From the World's Oldest People."
Juana Bautista smiles a greeting to visitors in "Walter: Lessons… (Handout )

There's certainly a profound and valuable documentary to be made about our eldest living senior citizens. Sadly, "Walter: Lessons From the World's Oldest People" isn't it.

Filmmaker Hunter Weeks, largely accompanied by producer-fiancée Sarah E. Hall, travels across America, Cuba and Italy to meet a handful of supercentenarians — that is, people 110 years old or more. It's a singular, noble effort for sure. But Weeks and Hall, concurrently going through their own life transitions, hog so much screen time with facile observations, stagy reactions and, yes, food consumption, that their venerable subjects often take a backseat.

As for the supercentenarians here, some — Walter Breuning (at 114, then the world's oldest living man), Mary Tankursley, Ruth Anderson and Sister Cecilia Guadette — are remarkable for their ability to still converse, recall and charm (mobility seems another matter). Others, though, such as Tennessee-born Besse Cooper (115) and rural Cuba's Juana Bautista (a disputed 126!) appear so much more acutely compromised that their presence in front of Weeks' eager cameras sadly creates a kind of sideshow effect.

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Perhaps most troubling is the dearth of big-picture historical context and support visuals, with Weeks over-relying on brief testimony from his fragile stars and, in some cases, their family members plus a few local historians.

That it's all not more genuinely moving further confirms "Walter's" missed boat of real depth and greater purpose. We are, however, treated to footage from Weeks' and Hall's wedding so, y'know, sniffle all you want.

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'Walter: Lessons From the World's Oldest People'

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino; Saturday and Sunday mornings only at Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

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