Rita Moreno is one of the legendary stars of Hollywood with a list of projects as long as her arm. She is so prolific an actress it is difficult to list all of the roles she has played over the years. She also was one of the few performers to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy. So when offered the opportunity to watch this film that documented her life and her career, I couldn’t wait. I truly hoped that this film would present new insights and demonstrate how amazing an artist she is. This film did all that, beautifully detailing the ups and downs of her career, expertly sharing both her struggles and highlights as one the first Puerto Rican actresses in Hollywood, and demonstrating just why she is such a legend.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, is a documentary directed, produced, and edited by Mariem Pérez Riera, follows Rita Moreno, focusing on her early life and career, following her from childhood to stardom and blending screen footage with interviews and discussions with Rita herself. Along with Rita, we get to hear from her daughter, Fernanda Luisa Gordon, and individuals who have worked with Rita along with those who’ve been impacted by her career and her life. The film details not just her career but provides an insight into how influential Rita has been as a Puerto Rican actress, especially in the struggle she had for authentic roles, the sexism and racism within Hollywood, and how all of those impacted her relationships and her career.
Part of why this film is so engaging and endearing is Rita Moreno herself. She is charming, beautiful, and full of fire even at the age of 89. She has lost none of her beauty or passion with life and every bit of that is demonstrated in interviews with the actress. What each segment reveals is the wisdom and insight into herself, into Hollywood, that she has gained over the years. I found her fascinating, for the most part, because there were many aspects of her life I wasn’t as familiar with as I thought. As Rita discussed her career, her relationships, I learned so much about her. I learned the breadth of her career, how many roles she’d been in long before roles we remember her for, like Singing in the Rain or West Side Story. It was revelatory to find out how much sexism and racism she endured to develop her career. While a great deal of those details was not surprising given the time period, it was powerful to find out how she dealt with those times, along with finding ways to be mentally healthy instead, as well as fighting those restrictions. I also was intrigued by the fact that she’d been involved with Marlon Brando and how much that contributed to her later choices. Her relationship with her daughter was just endearing while it was enlightening to hear how much of herself she felt was lost in her marriage despite the love for her husband. Her life and her fight for emotional roles in her career are inspiring. Her courage was monumental, in her fight for better roles but also in speaking at protests in both the sixties and currently.
Another reason this documentary is so compelling and affecting is the range of individuals that Rita Moreno has impacted. From interviews with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eva Longoria, Emilio Estevan, Hector Helizondo, Morgan Freeman and so many more, each person interviewed shared details of Rita’s life, from her struggle early on to be given roles that weren’t just stereotypes such as the Indian Princess or Hawaiin dancing girl to how she broke out of Hollywood’s box. Some spoke of how much her struggle impacted their own lives, their own careers. Others spoke of working with her, her professionalism, and her talent. Not one person spoke ill of her and all were impressed with her tenacity, her skill, and her courage. Her passion and fire not only impressed everyone who’s interacted with her but inspired those following in her footsteps.
The director and producer, Mariem Pérez Riera, does a skillful job of building the narrative. She takes a linear approach to Rita’s life, beginning with her childhood, departing Puerto Rico, and living in New York. However, she builds in insights with discussions with Rita, with snippets of Rita’s current role on One Life to Live and interviews with those who’ve been inspired by her career. She moves quickly through Rita’s career, detailing her lack of support in Hollywood, Rita adding insights and information. With such a long career, it would be easy to have too much information but the film focuses on the highlights of Rita’s career, her relationships, and all the times she’s reinvented herself along with the many awards she’s won in her long career.
If you find insight into Hollywood fascinating as I do, if you’ve followed Rita Moreno as a child and adult, you will absolutely want to see this film. Even if you aren’t as familiar with Rita, you still will find this movie endearing and powerful, seeing how much has changed throughout the years in Hollywood and how impactful one woman can be navigating the racism and sexism of the early film industry. Despite everything, Rita has survived, made powerful choices, is vivacious and spirited and it was wonderful to find out about her career, her personality, and the amazing choices she’s made. This documentary is as rich and beautiful as her life.
Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It opens exclusively in theaters on Friday, June 18th, 2021.
5 out of 5 legends.
Official Website: Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It | Official Website | June 15 2021