Sunday, May 19, 2024

Being Mary Tyler Moore (2023) movie review.

The film opens with David Susskind interviewing Moore in the 1960s about her role as Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” His questions are extremely offensive by today’s standards, as he talks disparagingly about how women stop listening to men after they get married. He describes Laura’s sweetness and contentment with her life as a full-time wife and mother as extremely idealized. Moore remains calm but firm and makes it clear that, first, Laura was far from perfect, and second, she herself agreed with Betty Friedan, one of the founders of the women’s movement, that the ideal was to be “in line first a husband, wife. second and third wives and mothers”.

The documentary has some archival clips from other TV interviews. A brief exchange with David Letterman had Moore smiling as she set firm boundaries about what she wants to reveal about herself. Extended clips from a lengthy interview of Rona Barrett show her openness to revealing and introspective conversations. Later interviews, especially those about her alcoholism and her third happy marriage, to a doctor 18 years her junior, are even more candid. When he’s behind the camera, it’s like she’s looking at us with love oozing from her every pore.

That doctor, Robert Levine, is the producer of this documentary, which means the filmmakers had access to the home movies. Much of it is taken from him, which gives us the truest sense of Moore in intimate settings, with friends and her mother at her bridal shower, at the farm she shared with Levine and her horses and dogs. In those moments she is relaxed and not trying to perform for anyone, but at one point she apologizes for not wearing makeup.

It’s hard in 2023 to understand how revolutionary Laura Petrie and Mary Richards were to audiences in the 1960s and 1970s. We get that from Susskind’s misogynistic questions and hearing that network executives didn’t want Laura to wear pants and then only agreed if he didn’t “get” her derriere. (Sitcom housewives of the 60s dusted dresses, heels, and pearls.) The suits wouldn’t let Mary Richards get a divorce and worry about a subtle indication that she was sexually active.

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