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It Was a Wonderful Life (1993)

 |  Documentary
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 118 users  
Reviews: 8 user | 1 critic

Feature-length documentary deals with homeless women, once secure in their middle-class status, who through divorce, misfortune, or circumstances were reduced to living on the street.


(as Michele Ohayon)
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Title: It Was a Wonderful Life (1993)

It Was a Wonderful Life (1993) on IMDb 6.9/10

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Credited cast:
Herself / Narrator (voice)
Lou Hall ...
Herself (as Lou)
Reena Sands ...
Herself (Ronella) (as Reena [Ronella])
Josephine ...
Marie ...
Terry ...
Alice ...
Marjorie Bard ...
Herself - Author, "Shadow Women" (as Dr. Marjorie Bard)
Jeanette Goldberg ...
Herself (as Jeanette)
Steve Renehan ...
Himself: City of Los Angeles Housing Authority
Gordon Tuthill ...
Himself: Apartment Building Owner
Wayne Doss ...
Himself: Director of Child Support Operations, L.A. County, District Attorney's Office
Dennis Cohen ...
Himself: Center for Enforcement of Family Support
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Linda Hernandez ...
Herself: Parking Enforcement, City of Santa Monica


Feature-length documentary deals with homeless women, once secure in their middle-class status, who through divorce, misfortune, or circumstances were reduced to living on the street.

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Did You Know?


[first lines]
Title Card: Thousands of homeless people in the United States are hidden and go unrecognized as homeless. The majority of them are women.
Title Card: This film is dedicated to the "Hidden Homeless" women who came forward to tell their stories and allowed us into their lives.
See more »


Courtesy of Octave Music Publishing Corporation
Limerick Music Corporation
Timo Co. Music
Reganesque Music Co.
Composed by Erroll Garner
Lyrics by Johnny Burke
See more »

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User Reviews

Very powerful
12 March 2004 | by (Chapel Hill, NC, USA) – See all my reviews

An excellent documentary; this struck a chord with me.

I live in the most expensive city in my state, an affluent left-leaning college town. There's much more education than jobs in the area (varied things, like an abundance of culture or the quality of the local schools, keep some in the area), and the homeless population is quite noticeable for a town of 50,000. I - and many people I know - are college-educated folks with reasonable-to-occasionally impressive resumes, who are working retail or waiting tables. We're a paycheck or an illness or an accident away from being where the folks in this documentary are.

IT WAS A WONDERFUL LIFE is remarkably well-made, with subtle cinematography that serves its' subjects well - no great art statements made visually, but this documentary doesn't need it. Instead, it unobtrusively gives the women who appear onscreen space to tell their stories - how they all ended up homeless. These women are educated, have experienced professional success and some semblance of security at some point, and are mostly descended from middle-class (or better) backgrounds. Their determination and self-awareness is striking, though - given the depressing familiarity of an ever-more-diverse homeless population - I wasn't as shocked as I felt that I should be.

Certain issues - depression, the common refuge of chemical dependance, the ever-present threats of violence - could've been dealt with in greater depth. Several themes are well-explored here however - if a viewer wasn't aware already that education, self-awareness, a ferocious work ethic and/or psychological toughness don't mean jack in and of themselves, it will be abundantly clear by the films' end. Morally, any individual (single, married, or otherwise) should - by this late date - know that depending on anyone else for security and survival is precarious even with a fat bank account, and potentially suicidal without. One woman (a law student) sums it all up effectively: "Never trust anyone. Especially a lawyer." This film visualizes all of the above in horrifying detail.

Equally disturbing is the revelation (from several of these women) that they never thought about homelessness until they became homeless. This info is rather casually offered; they don't exclude themselves from any of social apathy that is occasionally on display in IT WAS A WONDERFUL LIFE. They had it good until a bad investment, a lost lawsuit or a husband walked out (stiffing them for child support - the grueling fallout of this is shown in great, horrifying detail); one never views this as a problem deserving of thought and action until one has to move into their car, and then the true magnitude of how few safety nets exist (or function properly) becomes abundantly clear.

The women in this documentary impressed me - being homeless (or simply being poor) is an art, and it's a lot of work - this too becomes quite clear here. If there's an ulterior agenda, it should be noted that the women here defy most stereotypes of homelessness, personalizing the issue in terms that any cul-de-sac dweller would easily comprehend. These aren't the kind of cartoon down-and-outers easily written off by politicos, 'pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps' types, suburbanites, or any of us with an education and a resume (and the expectation of upward mobility and security) - the faces seen here look like people you know and love.

Which - in some ways - is the lone serious oversight here - the issue could've been brought home (in wrenching fashion) has the director included some individuals who were at another level of 'lost' - addicted, or mentally ill, and completely abandoned by the system (or who had dealt with bureaucracies and agencies, only to lose hope in absolute frustration). While such a film would be tough to watch, it would also be essential in understanding a problem that shouldn't exist.

As it is, IT WAS A WONDERFUL LIFE is a very powerful, moving document - gripping and informative - and I recommend it strongly.

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