Dir. Allison Anders (1996)
While Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia was a joyful duet between Amy Adams as the blogger who changes her life with the inspiration of Meryl Streep's goofy and lovable Julia Child, the bummer about the film is that its existence reminds the audience about what an amazing movie a straight-up biopic of Child would've been. (Or could still be: Child-as-spy/30-something virgin biopic really is prime fodder.)
If a Child biopic had some of the gloss and confidence of Allison Anders' 1996 epic Grace of My Heart, it would be a formidable flick. What makes Anders' film so wonderful is that it serves as a fascinating tour and salute to some of America's greatest female musicians of the past fifty years: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. (That trifecta was memorably profiled in 2008's biography Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller.) What's impressive is how Anders took these stories as inspiration, producing something true to the feminine experience (while also avoiding the legal hassles of, say, The Carole King Story and the songs it would require).
Starring Illeana Douglas in a marvelous performance as Denise Waverly, Anders sidesteps the Oscar-bait expectations of a biopic by presenting a woman's life in the simplest of ways. Instead of telling the audience that Waverly's a trailblazer, we see it through her work, beginning as she writes songs for girl groups in a faux Brill Builiding in the 1950s. Waverly continues to learn about the slings and arrows of life through her songs, like the solo piece God Give Me Strength, and through her family life, spanning an early relationship with songwriting partner Howard Cazsatt (Eric Stoltz), a remarkably accurate portrayal of pregnancy, and the freewheeling 70s with a complicated Californian marriage to Brian Wilson manque Jay Phillips (Matt Dillon).
The result is one of Anders' best films, and it's arguably one of the best pictures about music ever. We checked out her IMDb page to see what she's up to, and it's frankly disappointing. After a string of beautiful, feminist films infused with a genuine musical spirit in the 90s, Anders resorted to episodic TV in the 2000s after the little seen and quite gripping Things Behind the Sun. (There does, however, seem to be a Mi Vida Loca sequel in the works.) Anders makes great movies with incredibly complex roles for female actresses; she won a MacArthur Grant for her work and vision in 1995. It's a sad commentary on the state of filmmaking when Anders can't make a film every two years. We would certainly watch them.
Watch the film now for free on Hulu: