ReelBob: ‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It’ ★★★★

The life and career of iconic performer Rita Moreno is revealed in this straightforward and frank documentary.

Rita Moreno is considered a national treasure — a multitalented performer who has had success in every medium — and has the Awards — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — to prove it.

But the path Moreno had to climb to reach that peak was steep and strewn with obstacles and adversity. Yet, she persevered and continues to go strong today.

Her journey is chronicled in the documentary, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” For years, as the movie demonstrates, Moreno was basically an adornment in many movies, playing native girls, Indians and other exotic types. As she says, she was normally cast in “dusky maiden roles.”

“Rita Moreno” is not purely about her career, but also examines her long struggle to find, accept and embrace her voice, her heritage and, most importantly, herself.

Moreno, born in Puerto Rico, moved as a young child to New York with her mother. Growing up in the city, she, like other immigrants, faced discrimination. She says that she felt as if she had no worth.

As a teenager, she began entertaining — singing and dancing. She was given a contract by MGM where she played the demeaning supporting roles she came to regret.

Her one bright spot at the studio was her small role as silent-film flapper Zelda Zanders in “Singin’ in the Rain,” for which she praises Gene Kelly for seeing beyond her ethnicity.

Moreno’s most famous role — after more than a decade in movies — was as Anita in the movie version of “West Side Story,” for which she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

You would believe an Oscar-winning performer would be an in-demand commodity, but as Moreno observes, she did not make another movie for seven years.

The documentary is engaging because Moreno is very frank and forthright about her life and career, especially about her tumultuous and toxic relationship with Marlon Brando, during which she had an abortion that went wrong and later attempted suicide.

Luckily for her — and us — she survived and began therapy, which helped her examine her inner feelings and issues.

She also tells of being raped by her manager early in her career, and she was groped and sexually abused by a business tycoon when her studio encouraged her to attend a gathering for publicity purposes.

It is a testament to Moreno’s determination and courage that she survived and overcame the sexism and prejudice that prevailed in the movie industry during that era.

Moreno, while with and encouraged by Brando, began her political activism, taking part in the civil rights movement, and, later, speaking out for abortion rights and other women’s issues.

Moreno also went on to work on the stage and on television, most notably on PBS’ “The Electric Company” (which also featured future Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman), on the HBO series “Oz” and most recently on the Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time.”

Her latest venture is a role in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” in which she plays a character, based on Doc, the candy-store owner from the original.

Throughout the documentary, Moreno displays a sense of realism and optimism. She seems to find some positivity from every negative experience.

This, it seems, is what sustains her and allows her to thrive.

And because she is “just a girl who decided to go for it,” we all have benefited from her talent and perseverance.

I am a founding member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. I review movies, 4K UHD, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (ReelBob.com), The Film Yap and other print and online publications. I can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com. You also can follow me on Twitter @ReelBobBloom and on Facebook at ReelBob.com or the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My movie reviews also can be found at Rotten Tomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT
4 stars out of 4
(PG-13), language, thematic content, suggestive material, sexual reference