Review by Sean Boelman
The most exciting thing about biographical documentaries is arguably their potential to provide unique and unprecedented personal access to their subject. While there are plenty of films that disappoint in this regard, Harry Mavromichalis’s new movie Olympia provides some great insight into the life and career of a storied actress.
The film tells the story of Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis as she reflects on her immense body of work and the struggles she faced in her personal life over the years. Admittedly, Mavromichalis doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary with his structure, but the intimacy with which he tells Dukakis’s story is certainly welcome.
Clocking in at right around an hour and forty minutes, the movie is somewhat reliant on the viewer already having a familiarity with its subject to appreciate it. Those who are unacquainted with Dukakis’s contributions to the field of acting may find themselves wondering why her story is relevant.
There is a lot that viewers can gain from Dukakis’s story, particularly from her experiences dealing with personal troubles. So often, films that depict celebrities glorify the people they are depicting, but Mavromichalis takes great effort to humanize Dukakis and make her story feel both essential and powerful.
Unfortunately, it is likely that younger generations may not have seen some of Dukakis’s finest work. Her performances in Moonstruck and Steel Magnolias, among other movies, are undoubtedly iconic, but many of these titles aren’t as popular with the age group of viewers who are most likely to come across this release.
Of course, it is the interviews with Dukakis that do most of the heavy lifting here (both narratively and emotionally), but Mavromichalis also interviews some of the filmmakers and co-stars with which Dukakis has worked in the past. These provide additional insight into her on-set persona and how she achieved such success in her work.
Much like his narrative, Mavromichalis’s visual style is a tad safe and traditional, but in adopting this approach, he allows Dukakis’s natural charisma to hold the spotlight. This is very much a movie about how Dukakis has used her talent to work her way into the lives of audiences across the world, and the fact that this documentary is so compelling only serves as greater proof of that.
Olympia is an interesting documentary for those who are fellow cinephiles, but it may not appeal too far beyond that core audience. Still, thanks to some great material, it’s an all-around solid biography.
Olympia is now streaming in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.