Friday, June 21, 2024

“DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: WOMAN IN CHARGE”

THE STORY – Focuses on the life and work of Von Furstenberg, who created a name for herself in a field that was predominantly male and amassed a multi-million dollar fashion empire.

THE CAST – Diane von Furstenberg

THE TEAM – Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy & Trish Dalton (Directors)

THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes


Diane von Furstenberg is a remarkable woman. Born in Belgium to a Holocaust survivor, the striking, vivacious young woman caught the eye of a German prince who married her in spite of her background. At a time when women did not own their own businesses, she started her own fashion line on the back of her iconic wrap dress, which has been a mainstay in the wardrobes of fashionable women since it debuted.

Later in life, after becoming a staple of the New York City social scene, von Furstenberg gave some class to QVC by creating a line of products for them, cementing her as an icon of American fashion. Her European heritage granted her an intercontinental aura that the easy elegance of her personal style (and royal first marriage) only heightened. At 77 years old, she remains the very picture of glamour, which is why watching her put on makeup while sitting in her bathroom sink early in Trish Dalton and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary, “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” feels like such a thrill. It’s not something you would ever imagine her doing, yet it looks perfectly natural and even a little bit glamorous. Von Furstenberg has always done what she wanted with little care for what others said about it, and this image is a perfect encapsulation of that ethos. That initial thrill wears off quickly, though, and while von Furstenberg is a delight to spend time with, this film disappointingly never rises above the standard formula for celebrity biographical documentaries.

That’s not to say that “Woman in Charge” doesn’t have its merits. In many ways, it feels like an extension of the DVF brand, especially in the “lookbook”-style images that transition between chapters. Using archival pictures and footage from von Furstenberg’s personal and business archives adds to the authenticity and feeling of discovery. The filmmakers even find ways to use signature DVF prints throughout, keeping the aesthetic as close to von Furstenberg’s own as possible. This is only one way a documentarian can stay true to their subject, though, and while the film’s style may match her own, it lacks her boldness and penchant for bucking convention. Women didn’t have their own clothing lines when von Furstenberg started hers, and she didn’t know much (if anything) about the business. That didn’t stop her from blazing a trail forward, and one can’t help but wish that the film about her found an exciting way to capture that trailblazing spirit.

“Woman in Charge” sticks pretty firmly to the tried-and-true formula for biographical documentaries about famous public figures, trotting out as many talking heads as the filmmakers can get their hands on to offer their personal insights into the subject’s life. The problem here is that many interviewees may have big names but offer nothing to the story that the audience can’t glean from listening to von Furstenberg and her family, who obviously know her best. It’s great that she’s good enough friends with Hillary Clinton and Seth Meyers that they would appear in a documentary about her. Still, they don’t actually contribute much that feels unique to their relationship with von Furstenberg. Their screen time could have easily been given over to DVF employees who could testify to her struggles and successes as a business owner. Still, the list of interview subjects is pretty exhaustive otherwise. They cover an impressive amount of ground while still leaving time for fun diversions like some footage of the von Furstenbergs at Studio 54 and upper-class Manhattan social events, which give a fuller picture of the world in which they lived.

The film’s strongest asset, by far, is von Furstenberg herself. The septuagenarian’s undying charisma makes it difficult to look away from the screen, and the film’s punchy editing keeps the story moving even when she gets reflective. She reflects on her life with impressive candor, unafraid to hold herself accountable and unwilling to shy away from difficult emotions. Her second husband, Barry Diller, children Alexander and Tatiana, and grandchildren all share their matriarch’s frankness, alleviating a bit of the film’s hero worship. Their collective lack of fear and shame in talking about their struggles gives the film the kick it needs to have some staying power – even if it can’t hold a candle to the phenomenal woman whose life it depicts.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - This entertaining bio-doc leaves no stone unturned in its examination of the life of the iconic fashion designer.

THE BAD - There are too many interviews of celebrities credited as "Friend" that don't add any unique insights. The film does nothing even slightly interesting with the basic bio-doc format.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>This entertaining bio-doc leaves no stone unturned in its examination of the life of the iconic fashion designer.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>There are too many interviews of celebrities credited as "Friend" that don't add any unique insights. The film does nothing even slightly interesting with the basic bio-doc format.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: WOMAN IN CHARGE"