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Lions Gate presents
Searching for Debra Winger (2001)

"Why did Debra Winger leave this business?"
- Rosanna Arquette

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: August 13, 2004

Stars: Rosanna Arquette, Robin Wright Penn, Jane Fonda, Diane Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, Teri Garr, Theresa Russell, Salma Hayek, Sharon Stone, Laura Dern, Alfre Woodward, Gwyneth Paltrow, JoBeth Williams, Meg Ryan, Vanessa Redgrave, Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine O'Hara, Holly Hunter, Melanie Griffith, Tracey Ullman, Kelly Lynch, Samantha Mathis, Julianna Margulies, Darryl Hannah, Ally Sheedy, Martha Plimpton, Charlotte Rampling, Julia Ormond, Frances McDormand, Debra Winger
Other Stars: Roger Ebert
Director: Rosanna Arquette

MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:38m:51s
Release Date: March 02, 2004
UPC: 031398113140
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B A-B-B D-

DVD Review

It's just got to be disheartening, if you're an actress who has achieved even a modest amount of success, to be offered little more than roles in which you play The Girlfriend. Too much of Hollywood remains very much a boys' club, and on the studio side especially, we're talking about the mindset of boys in early adolescence, the kinds of guys who peek up from the PlayStation just long enough to stare at the girls—and when they're brave enough to talk to them, those stares are not into the girls' eyes, but at their breasts. Compounding this is the Logan's Run aspect of being an actress in the business—once you're old enough not even to get carded at the Formosa Café, getting cast in anything can be close to impossible. (Yes, there are women who defy this rule—Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon—but you can count them on one hand.)

Rosanna Arquette, who has been facing just these professional dilemmas herself, set out to speak with her colleagues about how women have been faring on screen and off in Hollywood, and this documentary is the result. (I know that some find the word "actress" problematic and pejorative; it's certainly not intended in that manner in this review, and constantly using "female actors" is just too stupid to contemplate here. You know what I mean.) True enough, it's hard to work up much pity for some of these women, who are among the most beautiful, most famous, and most well compensated in the world; when you think about the struggles of working mothers, for instance, it may not be Robin Wright Penn and Meg Ryan who come immediately to mind. But the difficulties of love and work and striking a balance between them are present even if you're tabloid famous, and the fact that here they're being interviewed by one of their own means in most instances that we get to see a candor understandably lacking in talk show appearances to hype their latest projects.

Arquette isn't a great filmmaker or a penetrating interviewer, and she's not always the most articulate—everybody she meets is "amazing"—but her work here is heartfelt, and she's got extraordinary access. I mean, take a look at the top of this review and look at the level of talent she's been able to assemble—and just about all of them have the same sets of stories to tell: being asked to play the wife, the mother, the best pal, the good listener, usually asked to be a little bit of eye candy while the boys get to have all the fun. Many of these women are very talented, and many of them work very hard; still, they all know that their training in Shakespeare and Chekhov and Stanislavski doesn't amount to much, because after an audition, they leave the room and know that the guys are comparing notes for casting purposes: Would you f**k her? (F**kability, in fact, is a big topic here, with a sense of resignation and despondency.)

There are many unstated and perhaps unintentional ironies to this project, as well—we've all sat around at one time or another and bitched about work with our friends, but only A-list talent can get a high-rent restaurant to close down so that that conversation can be filmed. Many of these discussions were shot at these women's homes, too, and living in these posh spreads in the Hollywood Hills would take some of the sting out of these career issues for me, anyway. Also, it's hard not to think that a wry editor is making a point in the juxtaposition of Tracey Ullman vitriolically denouncing actresses who have gone under the knife, subjecting themselves to silicone breasts and collagen-enhanced lips, and then cutting to shots of Melanie Griffith and Meg Ryan, obvious victims of overzealous and underperforming plastic surgeons.

Arquette of course does track down the actress of the film's title, who jettisoned Hollywood after her supernova success in movies like Urban Cowboy, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Terms of Endearment; as audience members, we're much the poorer for Winger's absence, but she seems much more content with her life than do the women still working in the business. There's a suggestion from some of the European actresses—Vanessa Redgrave, Charlotte Rampling—that things are better on the other side of the pond; but that's not an option for most, who seem to recognize that even though it's their faces we're staring at, things in the business won't change until a cadre of female writers, directors, producers, and studio executives grab the reins out of the boys' hands. You go, girls.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Scratches abound and the colors can be uneven, but cinematography is not the reason to watch this documentary.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: A little overmixed, maybe, but it's all sufficiently audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Women in Film, Prey for Rock and Roll
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The copy on the back of the DVD case promises a commentary track from Arquette, but there's not to be found on the disc; only a trio of trailers, which you can find by clicking on the Lions Gate logo.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

An empathic look at the limited career options available to some of the most talented people working in movies today, who just happen to be women. When studio executives have the epiphany that women buy 50% of the movie tickets and are as hungry for heterogeneous images of themselves as men are, we can hope for some positive change; Arquette's documentary could also serve as inspiration to young filmmakers, who should think about the best ways to take advantage of these talented, underutilized actresses.

 


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