Review by Dan Skip Allen
A lot of people know Rita Moreno for her Academy Award-winning role as Anita in West Side Story, but her career is much more complex and broader than that. The title of the documentary says it all. It was kind of funny that she found it on a tee-shirt and it became her motto and a phrase she lives by today in her late 80s. It's great to see somebody so successful in their career at such an older age.
Moreno was originally from a small town in Puerto Rico when her mother decided to move to New York City. Like a lot of immigrants, she struggled to find a life in the big city. The weather was blistering cold and not like the tropical island she had come to know as home. Manhattan, a different island, would be where she would have to grow up the rest of her life and try to fit into the biggest melting pot in the world. She was too stubborn not to. New York City was definitely a culture shock for both of them.
Early on, she got some work in her career as the Indian squaw, or gang member's girlfriends, but a lot of her roles were opposite white leading men. She had to talk with a Latino accent and have a "spicy attitude", whatever that means. She was sick of these stereotypical character roles. She knew she was better than these types of roles. Her dancing skills as a child paid off when she won the role of Anita in West Side Story. She finally was able to be herself.
As a star in Hollywood and a contract player for the studios, she was obligated to go out to parties with leading men as eye candy. They would bring different girls to parties all the time. She never felt satisfied by this kind of shallow relationship. It wasn't until she caught the eye of the biggest star in Hollywood at the time, Marlon Brando, that she would find some satisfaction in life. He was madly in love with her and she had eight solid years with him by her side. Their relationship would fizzle out though because of violence on his part. Violence is a thing women go through all over the world let alone in Hollywood, but her background made it more prevalent.
Violence was an everyday part of her life from Puerto Rico to New York and out to Los Angeles. She always seemed to be involved in some form of abuse or bad relationships that had violence in them. Inadvertently these instances helped make Moreno a tougher girl than most. Even after the relationship with Brando was over she got a role in a movie with him, The Night of the Following Day. She put her emotions from the abuse she got in the relationship into this role. The talking heads we're able to share their thoughts on these relationships and a whole lot more in the film.
After West Side Story and her Oscar win, her career dried up so she did some stage work in The Ritz and a lot of television work in shows like The Rockford Files and The Electric Company, where she was famous for the quote "Hey you guys!" The Electric Company was a staple of my childhood growing up. She and Morgan Freeman were fantastic in that show. Later she got a role as a nun in the highly praised HBO prison drama Oz. She received more awards for these roles.
The EGOT is the accumulation of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. She did so much in her career that she was able to win awards in multiple avenues of entertainment. This shows how versatile she was as an entertainer. This wasn't her whole life though. She was also an activist fighting for women's rights and various other causes during her long and storied career. Her celebrity allowed her to give of herself like this. This was the true love of her life. She was able to put her heart into these causes.
Rita Moreno transcended her upbringing and her Latino heritage. She proved no matter where you come from and what kind of background you have, if you want something bad enough, and work hard for it you can accomplish your goals. She did that and more in her career. She's still acting to this very day in the Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time and she's got a role in the remake of West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg. She has been a role model for all Latinos, women, and her own family in which she has a daughter and a couple of grandkids. By any standard, she is a success. This film does a great job of depicting that to the fullest. For those who may not know about her, this documentary will get you up to date on this amazing woman.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It hits theaters on June 18.