Review: Candid 'Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It' Proves Rita Moreno is a Legend

by Rob Lester

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 18, 2021

'Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It'
'Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It'  (Source:Roadside Attractions)

In show biz, they don't come much feistier, fabulous, and fun than Rita Moreno. Especially not among those pushing 90! She's had one hell of a multi-faceted career, which is underscored by that fact that she's one of that impressive lot belonging to the EGOT group — which stands for having won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony Awards. Add to that the Kennedy Center Honors, Presidential Medal of Freedom, lifetime achievement awards and more. But it didn't come without its battles — and battle scars. Rita Moreno is a survivor.

In the candid interviews in "Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It," a documentary filmed when she was a mere 87, shortly before COVID halted or slowed most movies' filming and post-production work, she's frank about having been raped, attempting suicide, having an abortion with a scary physical aftermath, dealing with prejudice and sexism in the entertainment industry, being widowed, going through therapy, and battling lingering feelings of low self-esteem. But this is no pity party. The clear-eyed, thoughtful lady seems to have moved on, grown, accepted the past as being (blessedly) in the past. Sometimes you wait around and life gets better and opportunity knocks again. And again.

The film is a mix of her recollections and perspectives, those of her daughter, work colleagues, and notables who share her Puerto Rican heritage and the limits in casting that came with it, as well as footage of her recent day-to-day activities, her acceptance speeches for the aforementioned awards, and many clips from her film career. In those snippets, we see the point hammered home visually (and then spoken about) that she was instantly stereotyped and locked into roles as an "exotic" sex object, as being "illiterate," burdened with "make-up the color of mud" and thick accents for whatever ethnicity of non-specific shallow "island girl" she was playing. Role after role after role. Nothing very deep or dramatic, with the high point, of course, coming when she played Anita in the film version of "West Side Story," which won her the Academy Award. (And she's in the upcoming remake as a new character.)

The point of the narrow vision of characters that Latina actresses were considered for is discussed frequently by one interviewee after another (plus many Moreno comments on this) and, well, a little goes a long way and becomes overkill. Point made.

While generally interesting and enlightening, some parts are a bit slow-moving as we observe her activities — getting in and out of cars, entering buildings, preparing for a party, having her make-up done, eating food while watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearing and cursing at the TV. We get thoughts from celebs like prominent Lin-Manuel Miranda and Norman Lear (two of the executive producers), Whoopi Goldberg (another EGOT), Gloria Estefan, and "West Side Story" co-star George Chakiris.

No mention is made of her cabaret shows, her two solo recordings, her role as Fran Drescher's mom on "Happily Divorced" (34 episodes), the female stage version of "The Odd Couple," or many other stage roles.

The overwhelming impact is admiration for a woman who deserves her status as a role model and inspiration, who is loaded with talent, is down to earth, has dealt with many challenges and persevered, and who is now at peace, still working regularly, with her sense of humor and wisdom intact. "Go for it" at a cinema near you. You'll be glad you met her.


"Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It" is in theaters June 18

ROB LESTER returns to Edge in 2019 after several years of being otherwise occupied writing and directing musical theatre shows, working as a dramaturg, arts consultant, and contributing articles and reviews to various outlets. His long-running "Sound Advice" column covering cast albums and vocal CDs has been running regularly at www.TalkinBroadway.com for almost 15 years.