The film explores the dilemmas of movie actresses over an unspecified age, but perhaps older than 35. One issue is the predicament of working moms in general — whether a woman can be simultaneously successful in both her life’s work, and in mothering her children. The other problem is that the movie business is shamefully lacking in meaningful roles for grownup women.
Arquette discusses these topics with a stunning list of talented actresses: Patricia Arquette, Emmanuelle Béart, Laura Dern, Jane Fonda, Teri Garr, Whoopi Goldberg, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, Kelly Lynch, Julianna Margulies, Chiara Mastroianni, Samantha Mathis, Frances McDormand, Catherine O’Hara, Julia Ormond, Gwyneth Paltrow, Martha Plimpton, Charlotte Rampling, Vanessa Redgrave, Theresa Russell, Meg Ryan, Ally Sheedy, Adrienne Shelly, Sharon Stone, Tracey Ullman, JoBeth Williams, Alfre Woodard, and Robin Wright Penn.
Unfortunately, too much of the conversation is clichéd and wine-fueled. So many stars are presented in rapid succession, all in the same washed-out color with horrendous, illegible titles, that they all start running together. The editing is some of the worst I’ve ever seen — abrupt, choppy, sometimes cutting off words mid-syllable and other times clearly assembling sentences from fragments of other sentences.
The discussions that work best are not the restaurant round-table gatherings of a dozen women at once, but rather Arquette’s one-on-one conversations. Salma Hayek is particularly thoughful. Whoopi Goldberg is candid and funny. Debra Winger, a focus of the film because she walked away from the movie business despite success, makes a sincere attempt to explain her decision.
Overall, though, I would not be taking the time to write about this movie at all were it not for a breathtaking insight from Jane Fonda. At one hour and 23 minutes into all this, Fonda suddenly offers up her personal experience of the ultimate ecstasy of movie acting, the kind of peak moment she says she lived maybe seven or eight times in her career. For five spellbinding minutes, she takes us into her trailer, and her set, and her soul. When she finishes, another jarring edit throttles the moment. Still, if you love movies, this segment alone makes Searching for Debra Winger worth renting. You could just jump straight to Scene 22.
As a whole, I’m giving ‘Searching for Debra Winger’ an ambivalent three out of five stars at Netflix.
Here’s a clip from the movie: