Writer-director Ondi Timoner made 2018’s brilliant Mapplethorpe, about the controversial photographer, and the devastating Coming Clean about the opioid crisis. Now, she turns the camera on herself, her family, and primarily her father, Eli, as he determines to end his life by taking advantage of California’s newly-minted End of Life Option Act, which legalises medically-induced suicide if certain criteria are respected.
Fifty years ago, Eli was America’s answer to Freddie Laker, founding low-cost airline Air Florida (motto: ‘fly a little kindness’), whose routes reached as far as Great Britain during its heyday. Then, at the age of 53, Eli’s neck was cracked by a masseur, leaving him paralysed, just as the airline was collapsing into bankruptcy. Forty years later, he tells his family – including his wife of 50-plus years – that he’s tired of living and wants to end his life.
Employing an unvarnished verité style, Ondi captures the final two weeks of her father’s life, recounting his triumphs, failures and regret. Friends, family and Rabbi (his daughter Rachel) convene at his bedside, in person or via Zoom, to bid their farewells and, in the case of his grandson, ask for life advice. Eli’s reply – ‘Respect the people you don’t know and love the people you do know’– is typical of the warmth and kindness he projects throughout.
It leaves the impression of a eulogy rather than a clear-eyed documentary
Therein, however, lies the film’s main problem. Understandably, Ondi comes to praise her father, not just to bury him; but the relentless procession of deathbed visitors and outpourings of mutual affection threaten to turn the proceedings from an intimate family affair captured on film by an accomplished filmmaker, into the Jewish equivalent of a sanctification. It leaves the impression – perhaps appropriately – of a eulogy rather than a clear-eyed documentary. (You’ll also need a high tolerance for the word ‘daddy’.) All that’s missing is a maudlin modern cover of Billie Holiday’s ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’. Ah, there it is, over the end credits.
In UK cinemas Nov 25.