By Lynn Venhaus
EGOT winner Rita Moreno, who will turn 90 on Dec. 11, traveled from Puerto Rico to America with her mother when she was 5 years old. She would go on to a legendary career as an actress, singer and dancer that has spanned 70 years.
A candid documentary, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” is a loving and illuminating look at her life and struggles.
Just when you think this will be a fawning showbiz portrait, Moreno matter-of-factly points out the bumps in the road in a difficult journey to stardom. She shares intimate details about the racism and sexism she endured on Broadway and in Hollywood, reveals jaw-dropping abuse and a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando.
Her resilience, and talent, would help her triumph over adversity – but what a remarkable, strong woman. Fiesty and fearless now, the former Rosita Dolores Alverio is still going strong. She is an executive producer on Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story,” to be released this December, and was on the rebooted sitcom “One Day at a Time” from 2017 to 2020.
Often cast as a stereotypical ethnic minority early in her career, she discusses her efforts to break barriers, fight for representation and forge a path for other artists.
The talking heads include George Chakiris, fellow Oscar winner for “West Side Story” (1961) as Bernardo to her Anita; Morgan Freeman, who appeared with her on PBS’ “The Electric Company,” for which she won a Grammy; and Latino performers who consider her a role model: Gloria Estefan, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado. Karen Olivo and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is one of the executive producers on the documentary.
The spry Moreno, a widow and mother of one daughter, is a marvel of movement. An activist ready to take to the streets, she chronicles her early involvement in civil rights and how she continues to fight injustice.
The career achievements are vast – including two Emmys, for ‘The Rockford Files” and “The Muppet Show,” and a Tony for “The Ritz” in 1975. The director has inserted copious amounts of archival footage, and Moreno’s body of work is impressive.
For 89 minutes, this fascinating and inspiring documentary shows how the gutsy Moreno survived – and thrived – in a cutthroat business. I’m eager to see the next chapter.
“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” is a 2021 documentary directed by Mariem Perez Riera.
It is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some strong language including a sexual reference, and suggestive material, and has a run-time of 1 hour, 30 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A
Available in local theatres June 18 and at the Tribeca Film Festival June 9-20, with virtual screenings at Tribeca at Home through June 23.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.