Rita Moreno has captured audiences attention since the moment she first graced the screen in her teens, and hasn’t stopped being a powerhouse since. The documentary RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT is a fascinating look at Moreno’s roller coaster life, including struggles with self-esteem, sexual assault, and abusive relationships, the movie offers a look what success and happiness look like after a tremendous seven decade career.
The 90 minute documentary, directed by Puerto Rican documentary filmmaker Mariem Pérez Riera, is full of rich archival footage, in person interviews with people who worked with or were inspired by Moreno. Full of energy that is directly channeled by Moreno’s personality, the documentary opens at her birthday and also follows her on to the set of her (now cancelled) reboot of “One Day At A Time” on Netflix. With the highs come the lows, with dives into the racism, sexisim, and misogyny that was rampant then, and is still being dealt with now.
From her start living in poverty, to being her seamstress mother’s “living paper doll” Rita was quickly accustomed to being a center of attention, a talent that came in handy when she moved to New York as a young performer. From there her career starts a trajectory that is hard to argue with; from small roles as any ethnic minority the Hollywood studios needed filled, be it Polynesian, Native American or Egyptian, to starring in bigger budget movies like “Singin’ In The Rain,” to winning the Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story” her work on tv and film is distinctive. A sis her Oscar win, it would be another two decades before another Latina was even nominated in that category for an Oscar.
From there the documentary looks at Rita’s Broadway career, as she wanted to avoid being in any more racist typecasting of roles. How awards impact her, and the rarified space of being an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award) winner. How her relationships, including an abusive one with Marlon Brando impacted her life and career. Through it all she was making headway through systematic racism, the limited scope of ideas for people challenging the ideas of how exactly to define a leading lady.
When the camera is on Moreno, her vibrancy, her spunk, and her love really comes through. She admits to having to really dig deep and work on herself to figure out how to live a life that best suits her and not what other people wanted for her. It’s most successful when allowing Moreno to take the reigns.
Rita is beloved not just by audiences, but by many famous friends, many weho show up in this documentary with stories, memories, and recounting how they were inspired by her career. From: Eva Longoria, Karen Olivo, Morgan Freeman (who I had no idea was in The Electric Company with her), Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hector Elizondo, fellow EGOT winner Whoopi Goldberg, George Chakiris (her co-star in “West Side Story“), Justina Machado, Gloria Estefan, Tom Fontana (the creator of the early HBO prison drama “Oz,” where Moreno portrayed Sister Peter Marie) all have been impacted by Moreno in some way.
If there is one complaint it’s that I could have watched a deep dive documentary on each of these parts of her life. Her struggles as an up and coming actress of color in Hollywood would be fascinating and relevant. Moreno’s relationship with Brando is dramatic enough for it’s on documentary and would be a riveting look at how mixing Hollywood, performers, and love can go terribly wrong. Or rebuilding herself as a wife, mother, and into the next portion of her career is an inspirational look at how to create the life you best want to live. You can see how 90 minutes to cover all of Moreno’s life seems a bit short.
Honestly, I’d watch an entire 90 minutes just on Moreno being on “The Muppet Show’ which is iconic and if you haven’t seen her “Fever” with Animal please click this link and thank me later.
RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT is an entertaining, and thoughtful look at the life of someone who created a successful career through some challenging circumstances. At one point someone wonders what Moreno could have achieved with these roadblocks in her way – but instead of thinking of the loss, I think the movie celebrates the path that she forged for other women of color to come behind her.
RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT is available for streaming on Broadway Direct, or rented on Amazon Prime.
Watch the trailer here
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