JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT
Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It : Moreno Drags Her Past into the Present
Rita Moreno is an icon, and when I found out about this documentary, I couldn’t have been happier. Latinx individuals in Hollywood, especially Old Hollywood, are a severely misunderstood and ignored group, and as a parent to a part-Puerto Rican child, I always look forward to watching documentaries that talk about the Latinx experience. I’m also a Moreno fan, one of many who devoured her autobiography, Rita Moreno: A Memoir. But does the Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It show viewers the real Moreno? Or does it fall flat?
Consisting of an assortment of talking heads talking about Moreno, as well as plenty of Moreno herself, director Mariem Perez Riera doesn’t really do anything avid documentary viewers haven’t seen before, but the tried-and-true formulation she uses is perfect for telling Moreno’s story. It can be hard for non-Latinxs to fully understand the impact Moreno had (and continues to have) on the community, but Riera’s storytelling technique, as well as the selected speakers, allow people from all backgrounds to fully understand what Moreno means to a community that’s faced a mountainous amount of discrimination and pressure to assimilate throughout the United States’ history.
Rita Moreno begins with Moreno’s 87th birthday party with cuts panning through her awards before talking about the impact she had on the film industry. One of the speakers, Julia Foulkes, discusses Moreno before making the erroneous claim that Rita Hayworth “masked her Latina identity” (arguing that Moreno was the first to accept it). Hayworth wasn’t Latina; she was Hispanic and incredibly proud of her ability to speak Spanish, which she did throughout her life, as well as her Spanish heritage. I get what Foulkes is attempting to say—considering Hayworth’s makeover consisting of painful electrolysis and lightening her hair is well documented—but Hayworth fully embraced being a white Hispanic in numerous interviews throughout her life. There was obviously a WASPification process applied to Hayworth’s public image but accusing her of passing is simply inaccurate and frankly insulting. That statement also ignores Latinas who came around shortly before and during Moreno’s rise to fame, namely Maria Montez and Katy Jurado, in addition to forebearers like Dolores Del Rio and Lupe Velez. Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing a connection made between Moreno and Jurado, especially being Jurado was never given the chance to play leading roles.
Inaccurate claims at documentary’s beginnings always make me worry about the content I’m going to see, but Riera delivers a poignant view of Moreno, documenting the discrimination she faced as a Puerto Rican, the studio forcing her into ethnic roles ranging from Asian to Mexican, the sexual abuse she faced and her tumultuous relationship with Brando. Viewers realize how many times Moreno has been kicked down in her life and just how much resilience she has to keep on going in Hollywood when the cards were stacked against her from the moment she set foot in New York. It was also nice seeing Moreno’s activism put out on display, especially footage from when she participated in MLK’s March on Washington and her fight for abortion rights. Some viewers might find the latter off-putting, but Moreno has never been afraid to be herself and fight for what she believes in, and her dedication to causes that mean a lot to her are put on full display.
Featuring luminaries like Morgan Freeman, Eva Longoria, Mitzi Gaynor, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in addition to Moreno herself, Rita Moreno paints a beautiful picture of a Hollywood trailblazer whose sadly been overlooked far too often in her life. Miranda is especially poignant in his reminiscences, talking about how much Moreno meant to him growing up. Moreno lets everything hangout, and she isn’t afraid to (rightfully) relish in the fact she deserves the reverence that only a few icons truly deserve.
Viewers are given a look into Moreno’s life (spoiler alert: her house is to die for) and she proudly shows off the fact she wears a wig and her makeup-free face—a welcome relief from the usual over-worked appearances we expect from Hollywood. The use of digital paper dolls to symbolize turning points in Moreno’s life was a joyfully adorable viewing experience while providing a unique angle that’s rarely seen.
The music used, especially when Moreno was signing, was poignant and fitting. There were no sound issues that sometimes creep into documentaries, and everything was obviously well planned out when it came to emphasizing points with the score.
With the exception of Foulkes, everyone brought a wealth of knowledge and fun to Rita Moreno. Are Moreno fans going to learn anything new? No, not really. Moreno does sometimes come across a bit guarded, but her candid moments more than make up for anything viewers not as well versed in Moreno may want to see. Overall, the documentary is a pleasant and fascinating viewing experience that’s sure to make more people appreciate everything Moreno has accomplished.