Judy Blume Forever Explores the Beloved Author's Trailblazing Career
Following up on our earlier piece about the documentary Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection, here’s a look at three more Sarasota Film Festival movies tracing the lives of women in the spotlight: author Judy Blume, singer Donna Summer and actress Mary Tyler Moore.
Different as they are, if you saw these movies back to back you couldn’t help but be struck by how each of these famous women struggled to adapt to expectations, from both themselves and their public. Like Carpenter, there was a drive for perfection that could never be achieved, but unlike Carpenter, the others had more time in their lives to realize that being imperfect was natural, and OK.
First up: Judy Blume Forever, from filmmakers Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok. As with most documentaries, this one features interviews with many people, including the author herself, but it also employs some colorful animations (a bit like the style of some of Blume’s books aimed at children and young adults, from Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret to Deenie to Forever…and beyond.
Blume, the only one of these films’ subjects still alive (she lives in Key West, where she owns a bookstore), often tells her own story, of growing up in suburban New Jersey in the sometimes stultifying 1950s, marrying young, and trying first to fit into the mold of happy housewife before fighting to break out of it. Blume comes across, as she does in her books, as unflinchingly honest, and responsive to her young fans. (At least two of them, seen in the film, she communicated with for years.)
She’s also resolute against critics who felt she dealt too honestly with issues like bullying or teenage sexual intercourse—and against the idea of banning books, something she faced during the 1980s and something that’s happening again today. (Judy Blume Forever will be available on Amazon Prime Video later this month.)
Actress Mary Tyler Moore also had to fight against the notion of perfection, especially after becoming America’s Sweetheart, first as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and then as the trailblazing TV news producer Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Also married young, but always ambitious for her career, Moore is seen at times in Being Mary Tyler Moore (directed by James Adolphus) answering interviewers’ questions about the right of a woman to have both family and career, perhaps more forcefully than you’d expect.
Moore didn’t necessarily consider herself a feminist, but she certainly forged her own path, besides setting some milestones for other young women with her show during the 1970s. Living with diabetes, abuse of alcohol and the tragic death of her only child, she was often far from the sunny single gal Mary Richards. But the documentary lets us into the more private world of her last 30 years or so, when she found happiness with her third husband, often far from Hollywood. (Being Mary Tyler Moore will be available on HBO starting in May.)
Finally, there’s Love to Love You, Donna Summer, a film co-directed by Summer’s daughter, Brooklyn Sudano, with Roger Ross Williams. Summer (who had a part-time home on Manasota Key for years) not only had to overcome obstacles for women in show business, but also for women of color, as well as abusive relationships. Plus, the Queen of Disco, as she was sometimes called, had a frankly sexual reputation as a performer that was, Sudano said in a Q&A after the film’s presentation, only one side of her. Sudano hopes that the film will show Summer to audiences more fully as wife, mother and artist as well as stage icon. (This film is also slated to appear on HBO in May.)
The Sarasota Film Festival continues through Sunday, April 2; to find out what’s left to see, visit sarasotafilmfestival.com.