Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It is the documentary my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany recently. The IMBD summary reads, “A look at the life and work of Rita Moreno from her humble beginnings in Puerto Rico to her success on Broadway and in Hollywood.” It’s a bit more complicated than that.
For she loved growing up in her homeland. Hollywood, conversely was quite a bit more treacherous. It was stressful often being the primary breadwinner when you’re a teenager. She endured some abusive treatment during her career, from her bizarre pairing with Marlon Brando to assault from studio executives and a business manager of hers.
While she loved her small role in Singin’ In the Rain, she was often given the generically ethnic roles of Asian/Native American/whatever. At least she could use the same accent because the directors apparently couldn’t tell the difference, or care. Even her signature role as Anita in West Side Story she was unsure she should take.
When she won the Oscar, she gave a far too short acceptance. “I can’t believe it! Good Lord! I’ll leave you with that.” In the film, the older and wiser Rita mocks her younger self. For a time afterward, she largely stayed away from movies, choosing to focus on TV guest spots and stage appearances.
The ’70s were good to Rita. In 1972 she received a Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album for The Electric Company. “Hey, you guys!” “In 1975 she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Ritz. She won her Primetime Emmy Awards in 1977, and 1978 for her performances in The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, respectively.”
The movie featured, as these things do, other performers speaking about her. A number of them Latinas such as Eva Longoria and Gloria Estefan, plus co-stars such as George Chakiris (WSS) and Morgan Freeman (Electric Company), and were fine. She was an inspiration to them all.
But the highlights of the film were Rita talking about Rita, warts and all. One of the few negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes says the movie “reiterates many… anecdotes, but it doesn’t tell us much that Moreno hasn’t divulged already in her 2013 memoir or in countless interviews over the years.”
For one thing, I didn’t read her book. For another, she seems to become more self-aware as she gets older. She looks great, but she’s fine letting the viewer know it takes wigs, makeup, and help to look that good. (She was 87 at a point in the film; she’s 90 now.)
She was involved in the remake of One Day at a Time, which ended in 2020. She’s going to appear in the reimagined West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg. It took her a good long while to get comfortable in her own skin, but surely she’s a wonderful raconteur of her own life.