Have you ever looked at someone’s life from the outside and just said to yourself “wow, I wish I could be just like them”. Well that’s what so many thought when looking at Rita Moreno and this great in-depth documentary about one of Hollywood’s most trailblazing actors, can confirm you just might still want to be.
The now 89-year-old actress, born in Puerto Rico, Moreno came to New York with her mother as a child at age 6, leaving behind her brother and father, whom she never saw again in her life. Moreno dropped out of school at the age of 15 and earned the money for her family as a dancer at the age of 16. When the boss of a Hollywood studio was in town, she auditioned with her mother: “I styled myself like Elizabeth Taylor, because that was the only actress who looked like me at the time.” She got the contract and from then on played everyone small role that looked somehow exotic, from the ‘Indian girls’ to the Asian dancers, and yes, even the playing Russian/Hungarian girls and incredibly, all of them with the same accent.
We see the good, the bad, and the ugly side of Rita’s life, not just the ‘grazing at the surface’ good things. It shows how Rita struggled with hating her Hispanic roots, because it limited her as an actress. She tells how she was sexually abused, was forced into an abortion by her then-boyfriend Marlon Brando, with whom she had a very turbulent 8 year on/off relationship with, and then tried to commit suicide. The film shows exactly why Rita is such a beloved actress and person as despite all the obstacles and what she has been through, she never gives up and learned to value the woman she is. Rita grows into her own person throughout the movie, telling how everything that put her down at the time just made her stronger.
Doing her due research here and getting it right, director Mariam Pérez Riera visited with the likes of: Morgan Freeman, Lin-Manual Miranda, Gloria Estefan, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Mitzi Gaynor, West Side Story co-star George Chakiris to name a few, and Moreno’s co-star on the much loved and critically acclaimed Latina version of “One Day at a Time”, Justina Machado. She collected anecdotes about Moreno’s daughter Fernanda Luisa Gordon, (an actress in her own right who performed with her mom), she scoured film and newspaper archives with journalistic meticulousness and peppered her documentary with countless glossy recordings and glowing testimonies. All of it showing that Rita has truly always been a force to be reckoned with and not just the first Latina to collect an Oscar in the 60’s when something like that was unheard of, and then went on to be the first Latina to win the celebrated EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, & Tony) as well.
‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It’ ~ has thus become a film that shows how much has changed in Hollywood and is a true monument to a young girl who evolved into a strong, wonderful woman who has done a lot for this change. And yes, if I could be even the teensiest bit like Rita, well of course I would GO FOR IT!
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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR
“RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT” opens only in theaters June 18th, 2021