Netflix UK film review: Iris (2015 documentary)
James R | On 30, Jul 2015
Director: Albert Maysles
Cast: Iris Apfel
Watch Iris online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“It’s better to be happy than well-dressed.” So says Iris Apfel, the 03-year-old fashion icon. She’s the perfect subject for a documentary: she’s energetic, she’s famous, she’s never arrogant, and she has a natural flair for one-liners as well as clothes.
And yet Iris wasn’t a celebrity until she was well into retirement – when the Metropolitan Museum in New York staged an exhibition of her wardrobe. Before then, she was well-known interior designer, but far from a fashion legend. The show struck a chord with the wider public, thanks to the personality and wit in which they were presented: in the same way that she would have worn them.
She’s certainly a sight for the un-shielded eye, all beads and bangles with her owl-like glasses perched on top. She’s a human Christmas tree. A thrift shop with legs. Albert Maysles’ film could never be as bright as his leading lady, but the documentarian makes a point of not following Apfel’s example: rather than layer everything up with window dressing, he keeps things as plain and simple as possible. The result is far from dazzling film-making, as we follow Iris around her daily life, but it also makes sure she shines through as much as possible: she gets a chance to rail against plastic surgery (“Oh God, no… Why mess?”), debate with her husband about who’s left their yoghurt, and dispense wisdom about practically any topic. It’s like spending the afternoon with the world’s greatest nan: Iris is the kind of woman that you dream of being when you’re older, whether you’re a woman or not.
Most of all, Iris emerges as a tribute to the irrepressible joy of being yourself. The self-dubbed “octogenarian starlet” may be ageing, but she’s still got the youthful exuberance and zeal for life of a teenager – and a dislike of the mass-produced, samey-samey culture of today. The result is an inspirational film about loving life and what you do. Also, bangles. Lots of bangles. “This is a Chinese shaman’s jacket,” she says halfway through, “but I’ll wear it as a cocktail outfit with skinny pants>” Damn right, she will.
Iris is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.