While sitting through Dreams of Equality and Thinking Like a Woman: the Life and Times of Mary Kay Ash, two locally produced movies scheduled for opening night of the Dallas Video Festival, I couldn't help wondering: at what point, exactly, did the passion go out of Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell's filmmaking? And what has to happen to bring it back?
It pains me to say these things, since they've done some very fine work (West of Hester Street, Beauty in the Bricks) in the past. I respect the Dallas-based husband-wife team tremendously and consider them friends, and I know they've poured vast reserves of time and energy into both projects. But if these two titles are the very best work they've done recently--and one can only assume they are, since the works are scheduled in a prestige slot on opening night of the Dallas Video Festival--they need to take a breather and do some soul-searching.
The first item on the program--Dreams of Equality, a docudrama-ish piece about the history and aspirations of American women--continues the Mondell tradition of mixing interviews, historical photos, and bland re-created footage. But the elements aren't arranged with any panache, and the bridging material--short, cutesy conversations about gender between little little boys and girls--is insufferable.
But Dreams of Equality is genius compared to Thinking Like a Woman, an amazingly dull look at the Texas cosmetics empress. Production values are high, especially during the This-Is-Your-Life flashback scenes, in which Mary Kay and cohorts are played by actors amid glitzy camera moves and enough honey-hued light to bring a bumblebee to orgasm. Whenever Mary Kay herself appears onscreen, her mysteriously regal smirk and lovely, lined face hold the camera; there's a complex, charismatic woman there, but she's obscured by the swelling score and Mother Teresa halo.
There's no criticism of the cynical way the cosmetics industry plays on self-esteem problems to sell an arbitrary image of beauty for profit--because, as you probably guessed, this is a Mary Kay-funded corporate video. This wouldn't be bothersome if the Mondells weren't known for their very public feminist views--and if the schedule's vague capsule description didn't describe the film as "a tribute," linking it to the spirited, questioning, uplifting, real documentaries the Mondells have done in the past. But hey: double-bill it with The London Advertising Awards and maybe you've got something.
Oh, yeah...the answer to last week's contest question was D.O.A.
--Matt Zoller Seitz
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.