One of the great talents taken too soon, Natalie Wood nevertheless managed to rack up a filmography of seventy-four performances and three Oscar nominations before her unfortunate passing. Laurent Bouzereau’s new documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind offers a reminder of why Wood should not be forgotten, and a beautiful one at that.
Part of what stands out about Bouzereau’s film is that it focuses less on the departing of its subject and more on, as the title suggests, what she left behind: a loving family and a tremendous body of work. As a result, the movie doesn’t take a traditional biographical approach, instead having segments that explore the different aspects of Wood’s life.
Of course, there is the shadow of Wood’s death hanging over the film, much like the same specter hangs over her career as one looks back on it, and Bouzereau addresses it in an almost obligatory fashion. But rather than going for the cheap blow of tear-jerking, the movie gets an emotional reaction out of the audience by cashing in on their admiration for its subject.
While it’s likely that a majority of this documentary’s viewers will already have a pretty good familiarity with Wood’s career, Bouzereau does a good job of justifying why she was such a Hollywood legend. The inclusion of clips from some of her greatest roles will show those unfamiliar with her work just how talented of a performer she was.
That said, arguably the most interesting aspect of the film explores Wood’s fame and how fame in that era differs from fame today. Wood had a very publicly tumultuous personal life, and the movie doesn’t shy away from that fact. Bouzereau refrains from going too far into the gossip, though, instead using interviews with those who were close to Wood to tell the story.
The film also does a very good job of offering insight into its secondary subject, Wood’s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner. The portions of the movie that explore Wagner’s relationship with her mother are among the most compelling it has to offer because they feel the most personal and honest.
On a technical level, Bouzerau’s film is certainly very strong. The combination of interviews and archive footage allows the story to be told in an effective and comprehensive way. It’s short and sweet at a mere ninety-nine minutes yet it feels entirely cohesive and does everything that is needed to be a loving tribute to Wood.
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind is a wonderful little documentary. Unlike many other movies like this, it does not get overly wrapped up in biographical conventions, offering a much more heartfelt portrait of the eponymous movie star.
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind airs on HBO on May 5 at 9pm ET/PT.