Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story Tells a Fascinating and Engrossing Story of a Fascinating and Engrossing Woman

My sister was amazing! She had an incredible life.

Joan Collins
Still from Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story (CNN Films/BBC Arts)

Jackie Collins became synonymous with glossy, titillating pop-pulp romance fiction. Like Danielle Steele, Barbara Cartland, or Judith Krantz, Collins used her his literary gifts to tell salacious sex romps. But she was more than just a phenomenally successful author, she was also a media figure, a woman who became a brand, an entity onto herself. In the 1980s, she was a ubiquitous figure in pop culture, her quick wit and intellect making her a very popular presence as a professional chat show guest. Initially known as “Joan Collins’ younger sister,” when she abandoned her indifferent dreams of movie stardom for herself and found her own niche as a writer, she transcended that limiting sobriquet and became a superstar in her own right. In Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story, Laura Fairrie tells the fascinating tale of a woman who created a persona that helped her sell over 500 million copies of her books.

Collins’ story starts in the UK, in London. She was the younger sister of the blindingly beautiful and talented Joan Collins. Born to a tyrannical and abusive father, Joe Collins, an agent who hid his brutish personality beneath a charming polish. Jackie was mistreated by her father who didn’t see much potential in her. Unlike the Elizabeth Taylor-like Joan, Jackie Collins wasn’t glamorous in the same way and as a result, she struggled to find her place. When Joan went to Hollywood and became a starlet, Jackie followed, a hanger-on, more than anything, someone who joined the glitzy showbiz parties, casting her sharp eye and making internal notes, absorbing the very specific life of mid-century Hollywood. These forays into celebrity social life would eventually become Jackie Collins a romance novel colossus.

The film does a fantastic job of presenting two Jackie Collinses: the slick, rehearsed public figure who can fling around tart one-liners with the aplomb of a stand-up comedian; and through friends and family, we see the private Jackie Collins, a damaged and ambitious woman who shouldered quite a bit of adversity in her life. The film’s structure is straight forward, largely chronological, as Collins’ story is charted from her humble origins in London to her glossy superstardom in Los Angeles. We see home video clips of Sidney Poitier, Michael Caine, Sandra Bullock all palling around with Collins. Fairrie also uses archival material of her subject appearing on television shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show exhibiting Collins’ enterprising way of hustling. Few authors were able to sell books the way she did because she was just as interested in the marketing side of books, actually selling her books, than most authors.

Though Jackie Collins’ stories told tales of ultra-feminine women, Fairrie finds the feminism in her life story. A self-identified feminist, Collins’ mantra was “girls can do anything” and she applied that slogan to her professional life, decrying sexist double standards that damned women who embraced their sexuality. Smarmy gross male talk show hosts and uptight prudes misunderstood her prescience and in one particularly disturbing sequence, Collins was forced to face young feminists who repeatedly and boorishly dragged her, accusing her of being a turncoat and a traitor to feminism.

The sequence that shows Collins pitted against younger feminists is important because it shines a spotlight on the tension and the contradiction in Collins’ public persona: though, Collins created a life and a career for herself, some argued that by using explicit sex (which bordered on erotica), she was merely doing what male authors have been doing to women for years: reducing them to sexual objects.

One thing that Fairrie does well is show the toil and calculation in took to create Jackie Collins. Though she gamely weathered the slings by her critics, privately they stung. Instead of allowing herself to be overwhelmed by the hate, Collins did something proactive and creative, she constructed a persona: Jackie Collins. It was a glossy, shellacked armor: the plastic surgery, the heavy makeup, the big hair, the linebacker shoulder pads, the leopard print (one of her daughters aptly described the visual spectacle as “quite startling”) – it was all a protective crust to deflect the nasty dings she weathered. The seemingly cosmopolitan and urbane Collins who easily glided through TV spots and talk shows was architecture. It was a smart creation, one that admittedly leaned into the campy somewhat vulgar aesthetic of 1980s romance pop fiction. As if to acknowledge this good-natured trashiness, Fairrie sprinkles throughout the film, scenes from a kitschy TV movie adaptation of Collins’ work, starring a bewigged Nicolette Sheridan.

It’s a testament to Fairrie’s interest in Collins as well as the subject’s own celebrity and place in pop history, that Joan Collins is relegated to a supporting role and doesn’t dominate the film’s story. Whilst it was fun for the press to play up the supposed rivalry between Joan and Jackie, the complicated relationship is treated far more interestingly in the film. Joan appears in the film to add context and history but she’s somewhat subdued (well, as subdued as Joan Collins can be). Their relationship was prickly but ultimately it came off as surprisingly normal – well, as normal as possible when you’re talking about Joan Collins and Jackie Collins. What Lady Boss exposed was a very normal and essentially loving relationship between the sisters that is speckled with rivalry that had been spiked with egos, money, and celebrity. (there’s a mordantly funny moment courtesy of a vintage TV spot with an oblivious Jane Pauley mistakenly introducing Jackie Collins as Joan Collins). But it’s refreshing to see that Fairrie doesn’t indulge reductive cartoony bitchy cat fighting. When Joan Collins parlayed her fame into writing some junky romance novels herself, the two women were pitted against each other, though in a far more direct way. Still, the tension doesn’t balloon into some War of the Roses-style tug of war.

Even if people aren’t a fan of Jackie Collins’ work, Lady Boss is a compelling watch. The Jackie Collins who emerges from this film is a very interesting and cool lady. The shiny wit, the overblown, drag-like persona, all of it was part of a fascinating woman. A woman who enjoyed unimaginable privilege but also a woman who worked hard and created everything for herself. It also showed a woman who created an empire but was still riddled with self-doubts, trauma, and vulnerability.

The biting satire of Drop Dead Gorgeous still packs a punch

Dark comedy and satire is difficult to pull off and often if a film has lots of acrid, barbed humor, it can be misunderstood when it’s first released. Michael Patrick Jann’s 1999 film Drop Dead Gorgeous is a film that’s criminally underrated, thankfully embraced by a devoted, cult following. It’s a scorching comedy that satirizes the beauty pageant world. Jann’s film is a mockumentary in the vein of the Christopher Guest films, but with a far meaner bite.

Dir. Michael Patrick Jann, Drop Dead Gorgeous, New Line Cinema, 1999.

In terms of a target, the beauty pageant is low-hanging fruit. Pageants are old-fashioned, sexist, archaic. Objectively, parading pretty young women on a stage to judge them seems ridiculous. But behind the goofy, musty trappings is a group of determined, hard-working young girls, many of whom see pageants as a way to either pay for school, earn a way into the entertainment industry or broadcast journalism, or most poignantly, pageants can be a way for young women to escape their exceedingly modest surroundings.

So despite the silliness of a beauty pageant, the stakes can be very high, and that desperation could inspire some awful behavior. Competition makes people do some terrible things. It’s that blind zeal for victory that motivates many of the characters in Drop Dead Gorgeous.

The denizens of the fictional Mount Rose, Minnesota are prepping for the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant. It’s a stupid name for a competition that aptly encapsulates the inherent stupidity that comes with pageants. The film’s fake documentarians visit the girls competing for the title. The lead character is the sunny and lovely Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) a contestant who lives in a trailer with her mother, Annette (Ellen Barkin), and is supported by her mom’s best friend, Loretta (a divine Allison Janney) Amber is an angel on earth: not only is she a good student and is kind, but she juggles two jobs, working at her school’s cafeteria as well as a mortuary cosmetologist. She’s grateful for her job at the funeral home, because she can rehearse her tap dancing whilst working on the corpses, running a makeup brush across a dead man’s forehead as she gaily goes through her routine.

Dir. Michael Patrick Jann, Drop Dead Gorgeous, New Line Cinema, 1999.

Though, Amber is a front runner, she has deep competition with the gorgeous, if steely, Becky Leeman (Denise Richards), the daughter of the wealthiest man in Mount Rose, Lester (Sam McMurray), the owner of a successful furniture store. Becky’s mother, Gladys (Kirstie Alley), is a former beauty queen and the current head of the pageant committee. As sincere as Amber’s efforts are in being a well-rounded, good citizen, Becky eyes the charity work with a cynical view. She only does ‘good’ when the cameras are rolling.

Other contestants include the athletic, Tammy Curry (Brooke Elise Bushman); Jenelle Betz (Sarah Stewart), an ASL enthusiast; Lisa Swenson (Brittany Murphy), is the immature, naive neophyte, obsessed with New York City, who has a “theaterical” Liza Minnelli-impersonator brother; and Molly Howard (Tara Redepenning), the adopted daughter of the enterprising Japanese immigrant Howard family (Richard Narita and Patti Yasutake). We also see a very young – and incredibly fit – Amy Adams in her film debut as the stunning and promiscuous Leslie Miller. Unlike the grasping Becky, the other competitors are decent girls.

Dir. Michael Patrick Jann, Drop Dead Gorgeous, New Line Cinema, 1999.

As the girls prep for the pageant and the filmmakers follow the quaintly small town residents during the lead up to the competition, tragedy strikes when Tammy dies in a tractor explosion. Other mysterious tragedies occur like the death of a high school jock who was eyeing Amber despite being Becky’s conquest as well as an errant stage light crashing on Jenelle’s head during rehearsals. After Amber gets a threatening note and her mother is injured when their family mobile home is blown up, it’s clear that someone is out to sabotage the beauty pageant competitors.

Of course, those old enough, will remember the bizarre story of Wanda Holloway, the Texas woman who was arrested for allegedly plotting to hire a hitman to kill the mother of her daughter’s high school cheerleading rival. The story received national attention, inspiring two television films, including the satirical The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. So, when watching Drop Dead Gorgeous, the natural prime suspects are the Leemans. Lona Williams’ script doesn’t set out to create a compelling mystery and it becomes pretty obvious who the culprit is. Instead, what the violence in the film does is highlight just how cutthroat people can get if their ambitions are thwarted.

Therefore, some of Drop Dead Gorgeous operates as a prickly morality play about the danger of blind ambition. There’s also a darkly funny, if mean-spirited swipe at conservative small town values. The characters in the film all profess to be God-fearing Christians, Gladys even crowing that the video stores in Mount Rose don’t sell pornography. Gutting and tearing up the facade of Americana isn’t something new. Filmmakers often peel off the protective coating of idealized America, to reveal a gross and disturbing gore underneath. Drop Dead Gorgeous doesn’t go as deep or savage as, say, John Waters’ Serial Mom, but it does make pointed critiques on the absurdity of narrow, conservative values. It’s telling that the sympathetic characters in the film: Amber, Annette, and Lisa, all express a desire to leave Mount Rose, finding it too restrictive and oppressive.

For satire to work well, the director needs able performers to interpret the material. And the range and style of acting in the film is pretty wide, encompassing broad, almost-slapstick comedy to finer, more detailed work. Dunst does personable work as Amber, imbuing her with a sincerity by playing the role relatively straight. She’s not the funniest or most outrageous character, and often she’s the straight man to the more outrageous Janney and Barkin, both of whom throw themselves into their roles with vivacious gusto. Are they playing up classist stereotypes of white working class women? Sure, no doubt about it. But they are sympathetic and kind characters are the closest thing to heroes in this raucous opera. Like Janney and Barkin, Alley also approaches her character with an almost opera-like zeal. Juxtaposing against the “humbler” Annette and Loretta, Alley’s Gladys is the evil cartoon of the mean rich lady.

It’s clear that a movie like Drop Dead Gorgeous would have had an uphill struggle to capture a wide audience. It’s a very funny movie but quite an ugly one (ironic given its subject and title). It’s pitch dark comedy will turn off viewers who will take issue with the merry way in which the violence is depicted in the film. There’s little redemption for the villains of the piece and the social mobility displayed on the film is reliant on violence and murder. But it’s worth the investment of time because it’s a wildly funny comedy that continues to shock with repeated viewings.

Summer of Soul is a fabulous, powerful testament to music, fellowship, and Civil Rights

Searchlight Pictures

Something very important was happening. It wasn’t just about the music.

Gladys Knight

In the summer of 1969, hundreds of thousands of people convened on Mount Morris Park in Harlem to witness pop music history. For six weeks, some of Black music’s most powerful and amazing artists entertained large crowds with soul, jazz, pop, and gospel music. The 1960s were drawing to a violent and dispiriting close, with the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy. Rebellions ripped through the innercity and Black communities were targeted by the police. In this tumultuous context, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival was a seeming salve to bring peace, love, and art to a community that was struggling for equality.

Despite the high attendance and the superstar caliber of the entertainers, the festival has slipped into unjust obscurity until the careful curation of Questlove, the drummer and frontman of the hip-hop band, the Roots. A reported four hours has been whittled down to a tidy two hours, most of the performances truncated to accommodate interviews with attendees as well as participants. Though it would’ve been great to see the performances in full – and I’d love to see the full four hours – Summer of Soul is a fantastic tribute to a beautiful moment in pop and contemporary history when artists of different genres were able to get together to give happiness and escape to their audiences.

The talent that graced the stage for the festival is dizzying. By the late 1960s, soul music was going through an evolution that saw the gospel-influenced popular music taking on psychedelic sounds that reflected the times. This evolution was illustrated with a performance by the successful pop-soul group the 5th Dimension which was singing their big hit “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from the Broadway musical Hair. Members Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo are on hand to talk about their participation in the festival and how important it was for the group, which was dragged by criticisms that they were “too white.” In one of the film’s many moving moments, McCoo is moved to tears as she watches a younger version of herself with her bandmates performing at this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Along with the Fifth Dimension, other legendary acts like Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder narrate their performances. Staples, in particular, has a great account in which she talks about performing with gospel great Mahalia Jackson, when the two were introduced by a young Jesse Jackson to sing “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Staples and Jackson duet on the spiritual with a transcendent power that is simply breathtaking. The Edwin Hawkins Singers also provide a spiritual highlight in the film with their classic “Oh Happy Day.”

Though the church songs were among the most moving, the film chronicles pop superstars Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin, Sly and the Family Stone, and Gladys Knight acknowledging that their involvement with the festival was an important turning point in their careers in which they assessed the direction of their sound. Wonder – who was a mere 19 years-old when performing at the festival – reminisces about his participation in the show and how it informed the kind of artist he wanted to be as an adult. Ruffin, of the Temptations, who is shown performing a mind-blowing version of “My Girls” (though his vocals are sandpapery and rough, he hits some gravity-defying whistle notes), represents a bridge between the respectability politics of the Motown assembly line and its tux and evening gown aesthetic to the more modern sounds of the festival. An important highlight of the film is the appearance of Nina Simone who commands the stage with a regal presence. After a performance of her song “Young, Gifted, and Black,” Simone recites a poem to the appreciative crowds, reading the fiery and powerful lyrics of David Nelson of the Last Poets.

One of the things that Summer of Soul indicates is the intersection of politics and the music festival. Organizer Tony Lawrence is portrayed as a canny and impressive impresario who is able to parlay his talents to network with and ingratiate himself to political, cultural, and business leaders of the time. New York mayor John Lindsey is portrayed as a sympathetic ally to Lawrence’s agenda, appearing at the festival, being coined a “blue-eyed soul brother” and several interview subjects testify to Lindsey’s allegiance to the Civil Rights Movement.

The participation of activists Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Denise Oliver-Velez is an excellent way to firm the connection between the use of art in promoting social justice and racial equality. Hunter-Gault, a journalist for The New York Times, spoke in the film to the importance and power of embracing the word “Black” and its coinage being so significant at the time; scenes in the film moved away from the concert stage to beauty shops, barber shops, boutiques, as the media began to cover different forms of Black beauty, including hair and fashion, which took its roots from Afro-centrism. These are very important scenes that highlight the importance of the festival and how it was was one part of a larger tapestry of a response to the racism and oppression that met Black and brown people.

When I saw the film, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos innovated space tourism. During the festival, man walked on space. In a smart juxtaposition of reactions, the film showed the news media gauging the interest in the lunar landing: white respondents were enthusiastic, marveling at the technological innovation; Black respondents were less impressed, highlighting that the high cost of these endeavors could be directed toward urban renewal and to combat homelessness and poverty. This instance is only one of many when dark parallels are found: police brutality, communities reacting to violence with rebellion, politicians neglecting the concerns of communities of color. What Summer of Soul does best is not only capture a beautiful moment but the conditions that made such a beautiful moment necessary. Attendee Musa Jackson summed it up best when he remembered, “It was incredible. Families. Fathers. Mothers. Kids running around – I was one of those kids. Beautiful, beautiful women. Beautiful men. It was like seeing royalty.”

Though compelling, fascinating, and moving, Hillary cannot escape hagiography

‘Hillary’ (Hulu, 2020)

Nanette Burstein’s Hulu four-part documentary Hillary endeavors to tell a  number of stories. The focus is on the interesting life of Hillary Clinton, from her comfortable middle-class childhood in Chicago to her ground-breaking career as first lady, senator, secretary of state, and two-time presidential candidate. Hillary also tells the story of post-war white feminism and the strides that women of Clinton’s generation made in the workforce, politics, and academia. The most depressing, this is also the story of Clinton’s doomed presidential campaign of 2016 in which she lost to Donald Trump. Director Burstein has access to some fantastic footage of the campaign trail, chronicling the seemingly textbook perfect campaign that nonetheless crashed and burned. Because Burstein’s subject, along with her friends and family participated in the film, Hillary never manages to escape hagiography despite some of the more difficult parts of Clinton’s life, namely her husband’s many infidelities (including his affair with Monica Lewinsky, which threatened the hard work she and her husband did to get to the White House) as well as her disastrous work on healthcare reform when she was first lady. As a documentary subject, Clinton is engaging and candid. Often very funny and sharp, Clinton is a great narrator of her story.

Four episodes is a lot and there’s a wealth of information. The sprawl can feel a bit overwhelming, but Burstein wisely threads the campaign footage among the biographical content. This makes the story simultaneously an aspirational story of inspiration as well as a political tragedy. The interview subjects who contribute to this wide and fascinating story all offer perspectives on Clinton’s ascent to political superstardom. Her college friends give especially valuable insight to Clinton’s early promise when she evolved from a young Republican to a pioneering star who stole the show at her graduation, pointedly rebuking a condescending Senator Edward Brooke, who was dismissive of protesters of the Vietnam war. They also talk admiringly of Clinton’s law school performance, many testifying that they saw her blazing trails. Because these are all women who love Clinton, the image we get of a young Hillary Rodham is an activist-minded advocate.

In fact, there are few people in Hillary who share some negative points of view. Journalists Joe Klein and Peter Baker offer some important, balanced interpretation of Clinton’s story (though Klein has a tone-deaf moment about Clinton’s status as a woman in politics); the film starts to feel a bit heavy with admiration, like a valentine, with alumnae of Hillaryland lining up to profess just how great she is. Clinton herself is honest and clear-eyed about her debits, giving honest assessments of her successes and failures in her career (she expresses regret of heading the healthcare reform of her husband’s administration; she’s justifiably proud of her rallying, feminist call to action at the UN’s World Conference on Women in 1995).

As a filmmaker, Burstein ticks all of the necessary boxes in making a political documentary: swelling music at opportune moments, dramatic slow-mo scenes, moving scenes of cheering crowds, folksy backstory stuff with childhood pics. There is one odd moment that has the Year of the Woman – the 1992 elections that saw a record number of women elected to the senate – scored to a corny Liza Minnelli musical number that she performed at the Oscars. But other than strange choice, Burstein gives her subject the Ken Burns treatment.

Despite the film’s flaws – its extravagant length, some of the fawning interviews – Hillary is still compelling watching. Because Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for decades, it’s easy to take for granted just how important and gripping Clinton’s life and career is. The film is also quite poignant with Clinton often open and emotionally raw. When she talks about the Lewinsky affair, her fury and disappointment bubble to the surface; her evocative description of the site of the World Trade Center the day after 9/11 is eloquent. By the end of the four hours, we see a whirling summation of decades in Washington that are dizzying in their scope. And in the center of it all is Hillary Clinton, weary, often indignant, scarred, but not bitter, from her winding career.

Matt Tyrnauer tries to understand evil incarnate in ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’

Roy Cohn’s name has become synonymous with unrepentant evil for good reason. His long and storied career has been studded with some of the most shameful moments of American history in the 20th century. An enthusiastic foot soldier for Joseph McCarthy, he worked to destroy the lives of suspected Communists, including rooting out closeted homosexuals who worked for the federal government, as well as playing a major part in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trial (including manipulating witnesses for the prosecution) leading to the execution of the Rosenbergs for espionage. But Cohn’s zeal for the unsavory continued unabated in the 1970s and 1980s, working with mobsters and helping future president, Donald J. Trump settle his way out of some major civil rights housing abuses. Towards the end of his career, he was finally disbarred for, among the listed ills, of ethics violations, including forcing a dying, comatose man to “sign” an altered will that would make Cohn one of the beneficiaries. This man is a piece of work.

What Tyrnauer tries to do in Where Is My Roy Cohn?, is to figure out what motivated this hateful little man to wage a war against humanity. If people come to the film for some mild redemption of the figure, they’ll be disappointed. If anything, the film exposes a character who is far more odious than thought possible. Having access to loads of material and interviews, the image that we’re left with is a twisted soul with no hope of redemption.

Cohn’s story is not only one of evil amoral wickedness but of tragic self-loathing. Though Cohn was a major figure in the Lavender Scare, bullying closeted queer employees of the U.S. federal government (this would eventually lead to Eisenhower banning gay folks from working for the federal government), he himself was a gay man, living a seemingly semi-closeted life. I write semi-closeted because though Cohn never came out, his queerness became something of an open secret, including in the social circles he ran with, even the most alt-right conservative ones. During the McCarthy hearings, Cohn’s friendship with zealous anti-Communist hotel heir G. David Schine was the source of some gross homophobic jabs during the combative hearings; and during the 1970s, Cohn was a regular figure at Studio 54 as well as Province Town, often squired by a coterie of handsome men. This contradiction vexes the story and leaves his tragic ending – Cohn died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of 56 – a knotty question. Was he a self-loathing queen who directed his anger and hate outwards? Though Cohn’s queerness is an important theme of the film, the director doesn’t try to pathologize or analyze how living in the closet may have created this ugly destructive behavior in the man.

Instead, Tyrnauer is content to just present the story. He follows Cohn’s story chronologically, starting with an unhappy childhood in the Bronx, with a domineering, rather unpleasant mother – both Cohn and his mother are described repeatedly as being physically unattractive, an unfortunate bit of physiognomy that seeks to explain the possible roots of Cohn’s bad behavior. The young Cohn is described as brilliant and something of a legal wunderkind, graduating from Columbia Law School so early, he wasn’t allowed to practice law yet. Instead of applying his considerable legal prowess on changing the world for good, he instead used it to further a noxious agenda as well as to further his own pursuits of wealth and access to political and social power.

It would be very easy to write that Cohn was horrible because he wasn’t treated well as a young person, and therefore was venting his spleen at an unfair world. And probably some of that is true. But the general consensus from the various interviewees of Where’s My Roy Cohn? is that the guy was simply a bad man, intent on being as destructive as possible in his goal to achieve his cracked view of success. It’s a startling portrait of a man who’s influence can still be felt in electoral politics today.

A devoted fan asks ‘What Would Sophia Do?’

Because movie stars are omnipresent, we seem to know them. For many people, their favorite matinee idol is more than just a beautiful image, projected on the screen, but an emotional avatar. Richard Dyer writes about the power of film stardom, nurtured by public knowledge of a movie star’s live and how her image precedes any work on characters she plays, no matter how skilled an actress she is.

For New Jersey grandmother, Vincenza “Nancy” Kulik, it’s Italian icon Sophia Loren. The Oscar-winning film giant has an incredible career, marked by its longevity and Kulik as found Loren to be an inspiration. Kulik, an Italian-American woman, feels a deep connection to her Italian roots – her parents were immigrants from Naples, like Loren – and consumes Loren’s filmography, connecting to the films passionately. The question, “What would Sophia do?” would pop up from time to time in Kulik’s life as she navigated motherhood in the 1960s.

Directed by Ross Kauffman, What Would Sophia Do? is a short film that spotlights the importance of art and its comforting qualities. Kulik not only follows Loren’s career but also her personal life, as it was covered extensively by the media. Loren’s long life was marked by great success and joy, but also by adversity – she was born into poverty, her father abandoned her, she fled her small town near Naples during WWII when it became a target for bombing. Winning a beauty contest at 15, parlayed her good looks, great talent, and ambition to a success as a film star. And like every great movie diva, she’s distinguished as a survivor.

And though Kulik’s life is decidedly less glamorous, she also went through some tragedy in her life, finding succor in Loren’s art. We get to see Kulik gush about her movie idol with an open affection. We watch clips of films with the film subject, the camera steadily capturing the profound appreciation the New Jersey American has for the Italian bombshell. She’s joyful when watching Loren’s many comedies and farces (Loren was an underrated comedienne) and we see anguish on her face when she watches Loren’s searing, Oscar-winning performance in Vittorio De Sica’s 1962 classic war drama, Two Women. When Loren’s character and her onscreen daughter are brutally raped, Kulik is moved and devastated – she then offers an astute analysis of the film and Loren’s personal work.

Kulik makes for a personable subject. She’s sharp and witty and she’s very enthusiastic about her favorite movie star. Loren does appear in the film, as well, her queenly presence undimmed by her age. When the inevitable meeting takes place between Kulik and Loren, it’s satisfying and heartwarming and the two women find a kinship and connection in their shared adoration of film and cinema.

What Would Sophia Do? shows viewers the healing powers and properties of cinema. When we settle into our plush seats, room fading into black, we are pulled from our world and welcomed into a fictional world, one that is scripted and controlled, as opposed to the unpredictable real world outside the cinema (as evident by Kulik’s personal tragedies) It’s a small film that pays tribute to healing powers of fandom.

 

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