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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Ode to Joan Didion
by Betty Jo Tucker

It gives me great pleasure to recommend a wonderful new documentary titled Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. Griffin Dunne, Joan’s nephew, directed this nostalgic journey through the remarkable career of an iconic writer whose work has covered America’s tumultuous social  and cultural scene for over half a century.

Because Griffin knows his famous aunt so well, his conversations with her come across as intimate and sincere. Plus, his choice of selections from Joan’s work -- as well as her friends and colleagues to include in the film -- help us understand the powerful influence of this amazing woman. 

Even more important, however, is the subject herself. Now in her 80s, she listens carefully and makes sure her answers accurately depict what she’s thinking and feeling, similar to the way she writes.      

Joan Didion has earned great fame.

Her writing garners high acclaim.

She captures truth as time goes by

with elegance and cynic’s eye.


Journalist, author and playwright,

Joan composes to gain insight.

Watching her in this fine movie

becomes a gift of history.


She faces suffering and pain

but still goes on to work again.

A woman to admire, for sure.

Her unique writing will endure.

Home movies, old photographs and revealing comments from people like playwright David Hare and actress Vanessa Redgrave make us wish we knew Joan Didion personally. At least that’s how I feel right now. Hare gets quite emotional when talking about Joan, and Redgrave (mother of the late Natasha Richardson) shares deep feelings of grief with her over the loss of both of their daughters. Joan’s two tragedies involve the deaths of her husband, writer John Griffin Dunne, and daughter Quintana within a short period of time. Her memoirs The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights deal with those sad events. (Redgrave appeared in Joan’s play based on the Magical Thinking book.)  

Joan’s other notable books include: Slouching Toward Bethlehem, The White Album; Play It as It Lays; Where I Was From; A Book of Common Prayer; Run, River;  We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live; and Democracy. She also co-wrote a number of screenplays with her husband.  My favorite? Up Close and Personal, a 1996 film based on Jessica Savitch’s TV journalism career.         

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. --- Joan Didion

It's not surprising that Joan Didion’s writing helps many readers discover their own thoughts, feelings, meanings, wants and fears.

(Released by Netflix; not rated by MPAA.)

For more information about this documentary, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.  

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