*/**** Image B+ Sound B+
"experienced" by Rosanna Arquette
by Walter Chaw Group therapy for once and future A-list actresses, Rosanna Arquette's bizarre foray into auto-confessional documentary essays a fairly impressive selection of talent waxing blue on the struggles of balancing stardom with family. Artists as variegated as Daryl Hannah and Samantha Mathis, JoBeth Williams and Emmanuelle Béart, Frances McDormand and Meg Ryan, Holly Hunter and Robin Wright Penn, Diane Lane and Sharon Stone, Salma Hayek and Charlotte Rampling, and Whoopi Goldberg and Tracey Ullman kvetch about how shitty their gilded lives are while sitting in leather-lined, candlelit restaurants or against the palatial backdrops of their impossible homes and yards. The title, Searching for Debra Winger (referring to the inspiration that triggered the film: to discover why it is that Winger retired from show business), is made ironic by the fact that Winger has come out of retirement since to appear in her husband's shitty Big Bad Love.
Not as ironic, however, as people like Lane talking about never being able to be in a committed relationship, or people like Laura Dern talking about how great being in a committed relationship is. The problem with the picture is obvious on the one side and slippery on the other, because on the one hand these actresses begging to be taken seriously as down-to-earth women with ordinary problems never transcend the baggage of their identities, and they fail even at that on the other hand because the subject and subjects of the picture are completely obscure to anyone who isn't also a member of the Hollywood elite. Without any kind of entrée into the picture, what we're left with is the (again ironic) experience of gaping at tableaux of the damned--what appears to be a dinner, for instance, attended by Julianna Margulies, Patricia Arquette, Samantha Mathis, Daryl Hannah, Kelly Lynch, and Melanie Griffith--and a tortuously protracted monologue by Jane Fonda first recounting the sacrifice of her career for the sake of Ted Turner (less irony than a helluva thing), then going on and on about her craft.
Consider that Arquette takes a moment before Fonda begins to tell Fonda how much she admires her, and then cast the rest of the interview in light of her fawning inability to edit her idol when she veers astonishingly off into the weeds. Searching for Debra Winger is the very definition of a self-indulgent project, with the blame for this resting in the lap of Rosanna Arquette, who, after all, asks these people to lament fame and fortune--going so far as to corner Frances McDormand in a restroom, lavish her with praise, and get her to agree that it's sometimes hard to juggle career and family. The rest of the exercise is comprised of startling revelations concerning the difficulties of growing older, how actresses are often sexually objectified (arguably the only interesting thing about the mess is an interview with Roger Ebert in which he hits on Arquette by bemoaning the loss of the sex-kitten role in modern cinema--smooth, Roger, smooth), and how brilliant people such as Martha Plimpton and Adrienne Shelly turn to the theatre, where their craft is still respected.
Positioning itself as a means to deflate the venomous cult of personality in the United States that celebrates its bold and beautiful with an eye towards destroying them in a glorious shower of soul-pleasing schadenfreude, Searching for Debra Winger is actually only interesting for that same cult of personality, people desperate to hear from the horses' mouths that their perfect lives are tainted by the same sort of difficulties as their own. Truth is, though, that having a job that one needs only do for three months out of the year (as a couple of interviewees describe as their compromise for family) and still reap unimaginable-for-most material wealth and quality of life officially transforms the interview subjects of this documentary into naturalized space aliens. Make no mistake that there is no purpose for this film other than for successful, talented individuals to have an extended bitch session that is no doubt cathartic for them, but holds no interest for anyone else with a shred of self-worth and perspective. It's only as interesting as a Barbara Walters interview, or an "Extra!" exposé on the hardships of Hilary Duff's busy life, except that it lasts two or three times as long and bears the directing credit "Experienced By: Rosanna Arquette." She means well, I'm sure, but it still makes me want to puke.
Lions Gate Entertainment presents Searching for Debra Winger in a 1.85:1 video transfer that looks great despite its lack of anamorphic enhancement, though there's frankly no reason for it to look anything other than fine. With that in mind, the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix presents the self-pity with clarity. Trailers for this, something called Women in Film (in which Portia de Rossi appears to be nude for the entirety), and Prey for Rock & Roll are found beneath the main-menu studio logo, while a box-touted commentary from Arquette is blissfully nowhere to be found either through the menu or by toggling the audio function on the remote control. That I even searched speaks to my nascent willingness to go feeling around in a snake hole. Originally published: June 10, 2004.