I have to admit a few things I’m pretty ashamed of, but I’m doing it anyway. I had never heard of Rita Moreno when I was asked to review this documentary. The biggest reason for that, most likely, is because I’ve never seen “West Side Story,” the film for which she’s most known.
Those lapses in judgment aside, I say that because I’m sure I’ll like the movie when I do see it, and I certainly loved what I saw of her in this film, I’m glad I was given this assignment. I loved her story, and I loved her spirit. You will, too, so I can’t recommend this fantastic documentary enough.
Having said all of that, onto the review.
With over seventy years in the business, Rita Moreno can say something very few people in Hollywood can say. She can tout that she’s good enough to be in the elite club of people who have achieved EGOT status. That is, she’s amongst a small group of individuals who have been awarded the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony at one point or another in their careers. Many covet this triumph, but very few have achieved the goal, which is quite a feat and should be celebrated when reached. Not only does Rita have the EGOT in her pocket, but Obama spoke of her in a speech he made. That’s not a bad thing to proclaim, either.
As I mentioned, she has over seventy years in the business, so she put in the time, but it was all talent that got her what she deserved. Well, her talent and a willingness to never give up. A few times where she was in the right place at the right time didn’t hurt either. Despite the odds against her, she kept fighting for what she wanted. Lucky for us she ignored the negativity that would come her way for being Hispanic. Maybe it was easy for her because she believed she was born to be a performer. She felt as though she were wired and ready for the task. She tells us that she had wanted to be in the movies since first watching one as a little girl. When Rita started out, the question was, could she play a Latina, or would she have to hide who she was?
Through interviews and her own words, we learn what it would have been like for her to leave Puerto Rico when she did. Wanting a better life for her daughter, her mother picked up headed for America, leaving Rita’s father and brother behind. Rita was to never see them again. While growing up, she was made fun of for being Puerto Rican and had to endure her mother dressing her up like a doll. She wanted to make sure her child always looked her best because you never know who was looking. Because she was so often discriminated against and called names, it didn’t take long for those words and terms to sink into and hurt Rita’s fragile ego. For years she believed she had no worth, but that still didn’t stop her.
She worked and took dance lessons, doing whatever it took to better her situation. At a young age, she seized an opportunity to audition for MGM. Soon, she was that same little Puerto Rican girl, but now she had a contract with MGM.
People weren’t always kind to her in the early years, and she was treated, more or less, like a sex object. At times, Rita digs deep and examines some uncomfortable subjects with the audience. She opens up about her relationship with Marlon Brando and is candid about her attempted suicide. She also tells us why she speaks on behalf of women’s causes. Rita Moreno is quite likable and very witty. She also has a bit of a potty mouth, but more than anything, she’s self-aware.
During the documentary, people she has inspired throughout the years weigh in on her success, we see clips of her work, and we’re told why the title of the film is “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” I’m just glad she was that girl.
The people who are interviewed know her best because most of them have worked with her. They speak highly of the woman who was or is now their role model. We hear from Morgan Freeman, Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, and Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. Norman Lear, who serves as executive producer of the movie, says of his star, “I can’t think of anyone in the business who lived the American dream more than Rita Moreno.” Rita has had her ups and downs, but with 160 acting credits to her name on IMDB, she’s still going strong.
Fortunately for us, when the bad times hit, she always brushed them off and returned to the stage where she was always meant to be.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It
Director: Mariem Pérez Riera
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Hector Elizondo, Chita Rivera, Gloria Estefan, Norman Lear and Rita Moreno
Rating: PG-13 (Suggestive Material, Strong Language)
Running Time: 1h 30m