THE STORY – An uncompromising truth-seeking rebel, Olympia Dukakis refuses to yield to social norms while pushing forward her own subversive narrative.
THE CAST – Olympia Dukakis, Whoopi Goldberg, Laura Linney, Diane Ladd, Lynn Cohen, Lainie Kazan, Austin Pendleton, Ed Asner, Armistead Maupin & Michael Dukakis
THE TEAM – Harry Mavromichalis (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
You might know Olympia Dukakis from her roles in films like “Moonstruck” and “Steel Magnolias,” but she has been a true force to be reckoned with in the film and theatre industries for decades. Harry Mavromichalis’s new documentary “Olympia” is a testament to her strength and perseverance. Dukakis rebelled against social norms and overcame sexism and discrimination because of her immigrant background.
“Olympia” presents a vulnerable and intimate portrait of Dukakis, who is now in her late 80s but still as sharp as ever. Dukakis was in over 130 stage productions throughout her career. She sometimes struggled to get hired early in her career because of her Greek last name, so she helped found and was the Producing Artistic Director of the Whole Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey where she played a wide variety of roles. She was in over 60 features and short films from “Working Girl” to “Look Who’s Talking” and was in numerous television series including “Tales of the City.” She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Moonstruck” and taught acting at NYU for many years.
One of the strongest themes of the documentary is how being a first-generation American made Dukakis often feel like she didn’t belong. She is the daughter of Greek immigrants and was a rebellious, independent child. She jokes about fighting in the streets with other children and that scrappiness continues to characterize her today. She relates how she never truly felt a part of the mainstream theatre community and how her feelings of isolation and her need to prove herself drove her to work harder.
Dukakis’s strength and humor shine through in this documentary. Dukakis often talks to those filming directly, cracking jokes, and even asking for advice. We see her with friends and colleagues and it’s clear that she enjoys warm relationships with them. The way she isn’t afraid to push the envelope and her clear sense of humor make her seem like a joy to be around. The film features many people in the industry like Laura Linney, Diane Ladd, Whoopi Goldberg, and Austin Pendleton speaking warmly about Dukakis and her impact.
The documentary largely follows her about her daily life and to events from panels to getting her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This footage is interspersed with interviews with colleagues, friends, and family members and footage of her film and stage work. It even includes rehearsal clips from plays she was in and from her directing her acting students. The breadth of footage is impressive, but the documentary lacks structure which sometimes makes it feel like it takes on too much. It covers a lot: her marriage, motherhood, theatre and film work, drug use, and religious beliefs, amongst other topics.
One of the most human moments in the whole film finds Dukakis struggling to get Siri on her iPhone to understand what she’s asking for. It’s something that many of us have witnessed an older relative do and it gives us a glimpse of not Dukakis the trailblazer or Dukakis the Hollywood actress, but the woman herself. It’s these small moments interspersed with commentary on some of her most famous roles that help us build a more complete picture of Dukakis. While it isn’t any sort of achievement in film-making, this documentary is a fitting tribute to a fantastic actress.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – This documentary does a great job of capturing what a fascinating woman Olympia Dukakis is and sheds light on parts of her career you might not be familiar with.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS – None