Sundance 2016: ‘Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You’ hails the king of comedy

lear ruminate

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You
Directed by Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady
USA, 2016

What do you say about a man who once had 6 of the top 10 rated television shows… at one time?!? Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You weaves a compelling causality loop between his conflicted childhood and his envelope-pushing writing. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary is an earnest tribute to an unassuming man who just happened to re-shape the medium forever. It’s vital, necessary, and surprisingly poignant.

His dad was hauled off to prison when he was just 9 years old; about the same time he heard a radio minister railing about the inherent evil of the Jewish people. Lear channeled his understandable inner turmoil into the most brilliant and prescient writing to ever grace the small screen. With All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons, Lear ruled the ‘70s with a liberal fist and a foul mouth.

Through archival interviews and Lear’s own words, directors Ewing and Grady peel back the layers of a man who is at once hopelessly boring and inspiringly defiant. He founded People for the American Way, battled the Moral Majority, and purchased one of the first published copies of the Declaration of Independence. After surviving multiple marriages, fights with temperamental actors, and a work schedule that would kill most mortals, Lear finally found understanding and fulfillment as a family man… even if it took him nearly 90 years to figure it out.

Lear hat

Ewing and Grady avoid the common documentary pitfall of canonizing their subject, focusing, instead, on what drives him. Lear pushed himself and everyone around him to greater heights in order to feed his obsession with being “a good provider.” He isn’t perfect, but he’s trying hard to understand his flaws. This public and painful therapy shaped television for decades to come, and the filmmakers draw these connective lines with elegant precision. With a quick anecdote or poignant recollection, we are treated to the genesis of Lear’s classic shows.

Take, for instance, the heated visit from three members of the Black Panther Party to Lear’s office. Lear uses their anger over the buffoonish portrayal of African Americans in Good Times as inspiration for The Jeffersons, solidifying his place as a champion of civil rights. More importantly, Ewing and Grady tell the compelling story of a son dealing with the void created by his disgraced and bigoted father. In Archie Bunker, Lear not only threw stones at his father, but learned to empathize with his smallness.

lear button

But the real beauty of Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You is the subject himself. Norman Lear is not a comedian; he just writes truth in its funniest guise. He’s serious, thoughtful, and understands his obligation to instruct those who might benefit from his wisdom and experience. Indeed, the film’s biggest flaw might be its lack of humor, which causes things to drag a bit in places. The filmmakers stay focused on Lear’s story, even when there is laughter to mine elsewhere. Take, for example, a comedic ‘Clash of the Titans’ between Lear and his good friends, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. This meeting could be the subject of an entire documentary, but that isn’t the story Ewing and Grady want to tell. To their credit, they maintain a razor focus on their subject, elevating the material in the process.

Like the shows that made Lear famous, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You is all about honesty, human frailty, and the art they inspire. When Lear makes the crushing admission that a popular anecdote about his grandfather is a complete fabrication, you understand his motivation. That is the mark of good documentary filmmaking; to illuminate, not to excuse. The word ‘legend’ gets thrown around pretty loosely in our 140 character world. For once, it might not be strong enough to describe the magnitude of an artist’s impact on their field. This is the worthy portrait of an icon who single-handedly dragged television into the modern age and changed how we viewed the medium. A must-see for comedy fans.

Add Comment

50 CEOs Who Never Went to College (and how they managed to succeed)
10 Different Types of Financial Aid
Top 10 Richest American Idols
V-Moda Crossfade Wireless
The 5 Most Expensive Wireless Headphones: Ultimate Auditory Clarity
25 Bachelor Party Movie Ideas
People playing the clarinet
10 Different Types of Clarinets
11 Different Types of Drums
7 Different Types of Roller Coasters
A bowl of oatmeal porridge
7 Different Types of Porridge
Shots of tequila
5 Different Types of Tequila (Plus Tequila Cocktails)
Fresh kale in a bowl
10 Different Types of Kale
8 Different Types of Cantaloupes
A Man in a Suit Opening a Car’s Door
9 Different Types of Car Doors
Headlights of a black car
9 Different Types of Headlights
19 Different Types of Construction Vehicles
Fire Truck with Warm Yellow Lights
9 Different Types of Fire Trucks
54 Different Types of Sports Played (Individual and Team Sports)
15 Different Types of Goggles
13 Different Types of Dumbbells
15 Awesome Alternatives to Skateboards (Plus Interesting Facts)
16 Different Types of Technology
man holding smartphone with vintage case
11 Types of Cell Phone Cases and Covers to Protect Your Expensive Smartphone
Black and Red Tablet Covers
8 Types of Tablet Cases for Kids, Protection, and Convenience
Camera, lenses and other photography equipments.
45 of the Best Online Camera Stores for the Perfect Pics