Narrator: Jodie Foster.

Narrator: Jodie Foster.

Dedicated to the “hidden homeless,””It Was a Wonderful Life” is a devastating , but ultimately unsatisfying, documentary about middle-class women who have fallen from riches to rags. Docu deals with a relevant, previously unchronicled problem, but is marred by lack of sharp focus, overly stressed feminist agenda, and mediocre technical credits. Still, timely issue and narration by Jodie Foster will be helpful in presenting the film on PBS, video, in schools and other orgs.

Aptly titled pic traces the daily lives of half-a-dozen homeless women, all formerly affluent, as they struggle to survive and find a place for themselves in a discriminatory society ill-equipped to deal with the dark side of the American dream: downward mobility.

Group is varied enough in age,ethnicity and occupational status to sustain viewer interest. Typically, these women were left destitute by an inequitable divorce settlement, recessionary job market, sudden illness and bad health insurance policies.

As a category, the women defy society’s image of the homeless: They don’t sleep on street grates, and they are educated, clean, well-dressed and too proud to receive public handouts.

The women’s extraordinary strength and creativity are riveting. One woman uses her artwork as payment to a chiropractor; another is a law student. Homelessness also brings to the surface some unexpected positive values: incredibly intimate family life, indefatigable fortitude, even humor.

The first — and best — part of the docu provides a compassionate look at each woman: cause of homelessness, survival strategy, refusal to be perceived as victim and ambition to maintain self-esteem and dignity by fighting societal stigmas.

However, the second, more ideological part presents its information rather selectively, in a manner that emphasizes its feminist agenda: Men walking out on their wives and children, ineffective legal protection for divorced women, inadequate child-support enforcement. All of these factors are crucial, but they are part of larger, more complex structures that include government and city policies, the recessionary economy, and evolving social values.

Jodie Foster’s minimal narration, which introduces the women and links their stories, is effectively matter-of-fact.

It Was a Wonderful Life

(Documentary -- 16mm -- Color)

Production

A Cinewomen production. Produced by Tammy Glaser. Executive producers, Elisa Rothstein, Kimberly Marteau. Directed by Michele Ohayon.

Crew

Camera (color), Theo Van de Sande, Jacek Laskus, Bruce Ready; editors, Anne Stein, Lisa Leeman; music , Melissa Etheridge; sound, Margaret Duke, Giovanni Di Simone. Reviewed at the AFI/L.A. Intl. Film Festival, L.A., June 14, 1993. Running time: 84 min.
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