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Roseanne Arquette's personal documentary has a really great idea:
several dozen top Hollywood actresses from the 70's, 80's and 90's
discuss the difficulties facing women in Hollywood, particularly women
over the age of forty. Interviewing them one-on-one or gathering them
together in discussion groups, Arquette elicits refreshingly frank,
unsanitized criticisms and confessions from some of Hollywood's
outstanding actresses and beauties: Jane Fonda, Holly Hunter, Daryl
Hannah, Salma Hayak, Angelica Huston, Meg Ryan, Sharon Stone, and many
others including Debra Winger (who looks fabulous). The title takes its
name from the idea that Winger chose to leave Hollywood at the height
of her career in the 80's (though a quick check on IMDb.com shows that
the actress has actually worked continuously since then.)
Roger Ebert provides a plausible - though unchallenged - explanation for the lack of good roles for women in their 40's. The audience, he explains, is thought to be comprised of young men 14-24 years old who are disinterested in films about women who might be the age of their mothers. Salma Hayak proposes a solution: she suggests that it will take powerful Hollywood women - like the ones interviewed in this documentary - to create more interesting opportunities for mature women in film.
The lack of meaningful roles for women, particularly mature women is a worthwhile subject and naturally has implications far beyond Hollywood; but Arquette's inquiry is disappointingly shallow. The documentary neglects the broader issues of our obsession with youth and beauty and women's role in society focusing exclusively on the impact of aging on Hollywood stars. (The choppy, MTV editing style and amateurish camera-work don't do a lot to elevate the topic either. But those are minor annoyances.)
At its worst, the film disintegrates into a kind of group kvetch for the over privileged. And watching these beautiful, wealthy women preen in front of paparazzi, compare jewellery, schedule dinner dates and party plans then complain that they don't have enough time to spend with their kids, well, it's kinda hard to feel a ton of sympathy....unless you, too, just happen to be a gorgeous, wealthy forty year old movie star. The irony is there for all to see but is never acknowledged: most of these actresses have clearly benefitted from the system they're now deploring; in their twenties, weren't these actresses eclipsing the previous, aging generation? So the laments come off as self-serving.
Despite these disappointments, SFDW is worth a look for its candid interviews. Debra Winger, Whoopi Goldberg and Jane Fonda are particularly good. Recommend.
I just want to thank Rosanna Arquette for what was one of the most
intriguing documentaries about Hollywood I've seen. Although I
live in Los Angeles, I do not work in the film industry, and in
general tend to feel as though we, the citizens of the Movie Capital
of the World, are frequently over-inundated with media about
actors and their films.
But SEARCHING FOR DEBRA WINGER is different. Despite what the reader may feel about Hollywood, the actresses interviewed are some of the most influential performing artists of our era. Through Arquette, we get an opportunity to sit down and have a frank chat about their art, their insights, their ambivalence. The doc is not like a Barbara Walters interview: predictable and formatted and PR-mediated. Interviewed by Arquette, a fellow actress with similar sympathies, over little dinner parties, in restaurants, on lawn chairs -- even in the ladies room (a goofy, then serious Frances McDormand) -- the actresses managed to be more frank, more casual, unguarded with their opinions. Some seemed suspicious that the little documentary would ever be aired at all -- inadvertently freeing them up to be even more honest.
Famous for their beauty, their talent and their projects, you get to see that they are intelligent, clever, funny, angry, uptight, resentful, self-conscious, generous, insightful, even visionary in ways that are only hinted at in their films. The dialogue in SEARCHING FOR DEBRA WINGER is all in the actresses own words: no scripts, no acting, no roles. Its an opportunity to see who they are, in all their brilliance, artistry, egotism and folly. Diane Lane is sharp as a tack. Alfre Woodard deeply reflective, eloquent and mature. My suspicion that Holly Hunter is a genius is confirmed. Theresa Russell cuts loose with quite a bit of rage. Whoopi Goldberg is the antidote to glamour-poisoning. Sharon Stone is at least as ballsy as her onscreen persona. Jane Fonda comes over as a wise and deeply generous doyenne. And Debra Winger is more compelling than she's been in any of her movie roles.
Perhaps the biggest revelation was Rosanna Arquette herself. She really puts herself out there, expressing her own insights, risking the exposure of her doubts, in a way that encourages the other actresses to feel comfortable, to open up, to speak frankly. Arquette gamely drops a lot of the pretensions of the industry to tell her story, and to get the other actresses to tell theirs, and as a result manages to reveal unexpected truths about the people behind the profession.
Because of all the big names, the documentary has star power, glamour, and charm in spades. But it has much more. With the lighting, hair and makeup aspect de-emphasized, one gets a glimpse of the real people underneath the monolithic illusion we know as Hollywood, and I found these people, these artists more fascinating than any scripted characters I've seen in quite some time. Underneath all the glittering surfaces, one discovers a deep, and untapped reservoir of artistic -- and human -- potential.
I wanted to like this movie, I really did, but it's a mess. As
well-intentioned as is Roseanna Arquette, there's no real point to this
Obviously, Arquette was able to secure the confessions of some of the finest actresses of our times, but instead of drawing on the "Red Shoes" theme, we are subjected to an inchoate collection of let's face it, silly laments.
Though not meant to be, a lot of these diatribes are insulting to women who struggle along in boring jobs, barely able to make ends meet while juggling marriages, kids and art without benefit of nannies, private jets and personal assistants.
Instead of discussing the struggle of art v. children, or career v. marriage as was promised in the opening monologue, this movie is about extraordinarily beautiful women who want our sympathy because they no longer receive the enormous privileges they received when they were more desirable to the men who make movies.
I love Theresa Russell, I really do, but she comes off like a selfish, prom queen who isn't getting enough attention. Laughable but sad is Melanie Griffith who obviously knows the joys of Botox and collagen but still cringes at the sexism to which she is subjected by the industry that made her rich. Jane Fonda, on the other hand, is as loopy as she was when Ed Murrow interviewed her 40 years ago on "Person to Person."
At least two of the screen goddesses interviewed -- Diane Lane and Sharon Stone-- have already altered their pronouncements: Lane who allegedly can't fit a man into her life is remarrying and Stone who finally met the perfect mate is divorcing.
The only person in this documentary who makes any sense at all is Terri Garr. I've always liked her and now I like her even more. The problem is no one is listening to Garr, though she still works all the time, even with a disability. And thankfully, Debra Winger comes off sane and sensible.
Get a grip girls. The rest of us mortal women of a certain age struggle throughout life, not just when we enter menopause. I am competing with 20 year olds in my workplace, just the same as you.
What was it that F. Scott Fitzgerald said? "The rich are different from you and I?" I guess the same is true of actresses.
I applaud Rosanna Arquestte for approaching these topics and find it
interesting to see these actresses as themselves. However, I find
myself shaking my head at most of their responses to balancing their
careers and motherhood. It is like they have never heard this
discussion before, and that they are unique in finding themselves
facing this problem. Many woman - and many men who are primary
caregivers - are faced with this agonizing dilemma. It is extremely
difficult to be both a mother and be passionate about your chosen
career. The big difference between these actresses and most women is
that most of us can't afford qualified help (such as a nanny) to help
ease the burden.
A far more interesting question, which arose out of the interviews, was asking why there are so few roles for women over 40, and why women in Hollywood need to be attractive but men do not.
Age is an actress worst nightmare, or so it appears to be the case that
Rosanna Arquette explores in her interesting documentary "Searching for
Debra Winger". In fact, most actresses working in movies seem to have a
sort of "shelf life" while they are young and beautiful, then, after
that, it's oblivion, at best.
As Martha Plimpton points out, most actors working in films have a lot more options than actresses. Jack Nicholson and others of his age group, still active, are the examples. For every Meryl Streep, there are a hundred Debra Wingers that could still be working in meaningful projects, yet, little work seems to come their way, unless they look toward movies made for television.
Rosanna Arquette has a sharp eye to delve into the subject and her choice of people she interviews for us is quite remarkable. Unfortunately, Hollywood always will make films for a younger audience. Maturity and acting abilities seem not to matter much in that factory of dreams.
I actually just read about this documentary in Entertainment Weekly, so was
surprised to see it on Showtime tonight. I was ready to slam it for being
shallow, but was pleasantly surprised at its refreshing insights.
Rosanna Arquette directs this documentary about the role of women in Hollywood when they are no longer a starlet; the effects of age on the actress' career. What was most impressive about the documentary was the incredible number of actresses interviewed. From Sharon Stone to Martha Plimpton, Holly Hunter to Charlotte Rampling the many actresses (both fairly obscure and mainstream) express some interesting views without sounding like they are complaining about the `lack of strong roles for women' a phrase that has become cliché. While I am not a fan of Salma Hayek in the least, she came across as very strong, voicing the need for female writers, directors, etc. (and backed up her word by doing that with Frida.)
Arquette's earthy style made the documentary flow very smoothly, and it was refreshing to see no pretensions. On many occasions, she very humbly expressed her adoration and respect for her subjects. She also put many of her interviewees together in groups which not only opened up the dialogue, but showed genuine camaraderie. Even Roger Ebert makes an appearance discussing how the movie going men tastes in movies have changed.
The one complaint I have is that I never really followed Arquette's vision. After listening to the amazing insights provided by actresses, I didn't see a clear correlation with the thesis.
Definitely worth a look, but definitely estrogen-laden so it may not be for all. But for someone who generally leans towards the `anti-Meg Ryan' films this was indeed interesting and thought provoking.
In 1996's "The First Wives Club", Goldie Hawn, as an aging actress, has
a piercingly perceptive line courtesy of screenwriter Robert Harling,
"In Hollywood, women only have three ages: babe, district attorney, and
'Driving Miss Daisy'". Actress Rosanna Arquette has decided to explore
this unfortunately true perspective in her 2002 documentary where she
speaks with thirty-five renowned actresses of varying ages. Even though
it's doubtful any of them are facing economic hardship, their dilemmas
would still make a worthy subject for a film, but she makes it such an
overly personalized odyssey over her own tenuous success as a 43-year
old actress and mother that she is unable to provide anything
significantly insightful on the topic.
Instead, we are left with a film with some revealing moments but more commonly, a haphazard structure of interview snippets that seem to make the same set of points over and over again - the incessant struggle to find good roles for women past forty, the precarious balance between managing a career and raising a family, and the myopia of profit-minded studio executives interested in what teenage males want to see (at least according to film critic Roger Ebert, the only male interviewed). The problem is that Arquette, as a documentarian, cannot provide much-needed objectivity to her subject, as she repeatedly interjects with her personal experiences when she is not fawning over her subjects. Her lack of discipline extends into her editing as there is no sense of organization to her narrative other than how she came upon the actresses, whether proactively seeking them out individually, organizing lunches (like what Jon Favreau does with his TV series, "Dinner for Five") or happening upon them at Cannes (like surprising a thankfully good-humored Frances McDormand in the ladies room). Truth be told, some come off quite badly as they express unformed thoughts with mind-numbing analogies. Meg Ryan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Emmanuelle Béart come to mind.
Some like Robin Wright Penn and Charlotte Rampling reveal so little about themselves that their inclusion provides questionable value, and a self-consciously glamorous Sharon Stone comes across as rather disingenuous when she talks about her abandonment of vanity. But others provide nuggets of wisdom like Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, Salma Hayek, Martha Plimpton (who has forsaken movies for the stage) and a predictably funny Whoopi Goldberg. Leave it to veterans Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda to offer the film's most honest, insightful comments, the latter especially revealing in how former husband Ted Turner encouraged her retirement and then sharing how she feels when she nails a pivotal scene in a movie. Fortunately, Debra Winger, whose self-imposed (and ultimately short-lived) retirement inspired the film's eponymous title, shows herself to be the trenchantly sardonic, perceptive non-conformist she obviously is. The film really contains very little when it comes to revelations about the inherent sexism of the film industry, and Arquette's personal catharsis frankly does not resonate enough to make the film worthwhile. Other than some trailers, the DVD has no extras.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't think that Arquette's documentary was just a whine fest for
rich liberal actresses. On the other hand, Debra Winger was a poor
choice as her icon of a talented actress who was tossed by the wayside
as she got older. Maybe Arquette should have read the roles Winger
turned down in favor of such dogs as Mike"s Murder and Cannery Row. She
gets a pass for turning down the Holly Hunter role in Broadcast News
because she was pregnant. That is a legitimate point that having a
family does hurt an actress' career but then Mare Winningham played a
virgin while she was a pregnant. Yet as the link shows, she had prime
movie roles that she chose to turn down. The Music Box was an
especially powerful film.
http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0000700/bio She (Winger) became notorious for turning down worthy roles in quality films, such as Kathleen Turner's role in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Susan Sarandon's role in Bull Durham (1988), Michelle Pfeiffer's role in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Jessica Lange's role in The Music Box(1989), and Geena Davis' role in A League of their Own (1992).
A League of their Own is especially egregious since Winger had the part but was upset that Director Penny Marshall chose Madonna to be in the film. I also wonder if Arquette considers Marshall sexist for not casting Ally Sheedy for a part because she could not play baseball good enough for the role. BTW, Winger married actor Arliss Howard and starred in a movie he directed in 2001.
I do have empathy for talented actresses who are not finding worthy roles in the movies. Part of it is the economics of movie making and what they consider marketable. However some of the actresses could also help by taking TV roles and boost the quality of that medium. It certainly helped Marg Helgenberger. If you are only willing to stick to a small part of the acting world of movies, actresses are limiting their own career. I mean big stars like Robin Williams, Julia Roberts and other big stars do cameos on TV, I am sure many of these actresses could find quality work especially with the proliferation of cable TV programming.
There are too many actors and actresses for everyone to be an A list movie star. Tony Shalhoub will never be a big time movie star but he certainly created some buzz with Monk. If he stuck to movies, he would be forced playing foreign cab drivers (Quick Change) or a pawn shop alien getting his head blown off (Men in Black).
I started out liking this film. Ms. Arquette was making some good points, talking to some very interesting actresses (Jane Fonda is a standout, as well as Debra Winger herself.) But this film could have easily been 20 minutes shorter--it just seemed to go on and on. In the end, when all of the actresses involved in the documentary are signing their names in lipstick on pieces of mirror (huh?), Rosanna is the very last one to do it. It just hit the point that this was such a vanity piece rather than a serious piece of filmmaking, which it really could have been, if someone else had directed it that is.
I just finished watching this movie, and I loved it. I found it completely refreshing to have a topic for a movie to be about working women and the choices they make. There are certainly parts to it that are specific to being an artist, and even more specifically an actor, but you can definitely generalize this to working women at all. I'm probably limiting it to my perspective -- it would apply even to choices women make at all. It is a great irony that the type of movie the women in this picture discuss that isn't being made is exactly the type of movie this is. One that delves into real people, real "characters" as Martha Plimpton yearned for, that are dealing with issues that really affect life -- motherhood, relationships, feeling like you've done something with your life. I would LOVE to see more movies tackling those topics. Brava, Rosanna! As Sharon Stone said, "You go, girl!"
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