From director April Wright comes a documentary looking into the history of female stunt performers in the movies – here’s our review.
Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story offers a fascinating look into an industry which, historically, has been somewhat overlooked. Whilst the names of legendary male stunt performers like Vic Armstrong and Hal Needham may be as recognisable to many of us as the famous actors they doubled for, female stunt performers, it’s fair to say, have never enjoyed the same profile as their male counterparts.
Thus, Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story, based on a book of the same name by Mollie Gregory, aims to redress that imbalance by examining how issues and prejudices within the film industry, and wider culture in general, have shaped a hard road for stuntwomen. Indeed, some of the interviewees’ experiences in this feature-length documentary can make it a sobering watch, such as seeing Julie Ann Johnson recounting her harrowing experience of being blacklisted from Hollywood for challenging the on-set drug abuse of her male counterparts during her time as a stunt double on the 1970s Charlie’s Angels TV show.
However, director April Wright skilfully interleaves the tribulations of the female stunt sorority with joyous moments of reminiscence, such as Donna Keegan recounting just how she felt doubling as Jamie Lee Curtis in a memorable sequence from 1994’s True Lies. Keegan’s breathless recollection of the sequence’s transcendent nature only embellishes it further.
On the whole, though, it’s the film’s focus on talking that prevents it from being a truly enthralling watch. Whilst we are treated to a few glimpses into the construction of stunt sequences such as the freeway scene from The Matrix Reloaded, it’s largely done through discussion. There’s precious little time spent with the women on set, taking us through the technical nature of stunt co-ordination, with the exception of a couple of scenes from The X-Files. It’s here that the film, whilst engaging throughout, is found wanting. Hearing stuntwomen of different generations reflect with one another on the prejudices they’ve had to overcome, whilst accompanied by library footage, generally works well, but when it comes to the day-to-day minutiae of their work, there’s little to position them within their world.
By far and away the most joyous moment of the film is when stunt legend Debbie Evans, Michelle Rodriguez’s double in the Fast And Furious films, takes Rodriguez – the film’s narrator -– on a breathtaking joyride around her neighbourhood. It’s an outrageous display of brilliance that punctuates Evans’ recollections throughout the film and underlines her skills. Sadly, many of the other performers in the documentary aren’t able to showcase their abilities to the same degree, presumably because their work takes place on blockbuster film sets where secrets are closely guarded.
Whilst a shame, there’s still plenty here for film buffs to enjoy, and the film is a fine tribute to those daring women who have shattered the glass ceiling time and time again, whether at the wheels of a careening, turbocharged vehicle or by plunging from a vertigo-inducing height.
Stuntwomen is currently available on Prime Video in the US: when we have UK release details, we’ll update this review.
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