Director: Donna Kanter
“Lunch,” from director Donna Kanter, is a documentary movie whose simple logline pretty much serves as an accurate barometer of one’s enjoyment. Over almost 40 years, a group of comedy writers and directors have gathered every other Wednesday for lunch and fraternal fellowship. The membership roster and the meeting places have occasionally changed, but the friendships forged and senses of humor indulged and displayed have remained steady. This documentary snapshot gives an overview of their time together, and in the process illuminates Hollywood spanning several eras. For the viewer for whom that sounds even remotely interesting, this is up your alley; others might want to skip it.
Described by one participant as a “never-ending search for the worst corned beef sandwich” in the city of Los Angeles, the lunchtime gang as presently constituted here includes Sid Caesar, Monty Hall, Arthur Hiller, Rocky Kalish, Hal Kanter, Arthur Marx, Gary Owens, John Rappaport, Carl Reiner, Matty Simmons and Ben Starr. Owing to the familial connection (the director is his daughter), Kanter gets a lot of time early on, opining that, “The American sense of humor is the Jewish sense of humor.” Shorthand biographies and family anecdotes (Marx detailing his father Groucho’s objections over a nonfiction book he penned and sold in adulthood) are mixed in with cross-talk and jokes from the lunch (sample punchline: “We don’t sell watches here, we do circumcisions — what would you put in the window [to advertise]?”), resulting in a movie that’s a bit scattered in focus, but also nimble and never boring.
Naturally, there’s plenty of raging and rumination about age. Talk at the lunches quickly and easily turns to bowel movements, hearing and diabetes; Starr, meanwhile, chats about getting his first moving violation in almost five decades at age 87, and the rueful shame of taking (but also passing) a driving test to retain his privileges. There’s also individual and joint dissections of comedic styles and the inevitable “then versus now” (“There’s too much schmutz,” says Caesar, trumpeting the widely shared view that there was much humor not in good taste — or at least not creatively dirty.)
Still, this isn’t one big bitch session — not by a long shot. Some of the stories here are absolutely priceless — including Caesar explaining his penchant for fake accents and the rhythms of language, and also recalling his first big laugh, in middle school, when he was blinded by a spotlight on stage. For film lovers (and particularly comedy aficionados of the AARP set), this is a “Lunch” date worth keeping.
NOTE: “Lunch” opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7. For more information on the film, visit www.LunchTheDocumentary.com.
Written by: Brent Simon