Review: ‘Fourteen Women’

Political junkies, idealistic schoolgirls and everyone in between will be thrilled to vary-ing degrees by "14 Women," a touchy-feely, up-close look at the 14 distaff senators — of only 35 total since 1789 — in the 109th Congress (2005-2006). As much a re-cruitment vid for public service as a tell-all docu, pic is a front-running candidate for fests and small screens, with no term limits on ancillary.

Political junkies, idealistic schoolgirls and everyone in between will be thrilled to vary-ing degrees by “14 Women,” a touchy-feely, up-close look at the 14 distaff senators — of only 35 total since 1789 — in the 109th Congress (2005-2006). As much a re-cruitment vid for public service as a tell-all docu, pic is a front-running candidate for fests and small screens, with no term limits on ancillary.

Close scrutiny of credits and background info reveals how filmmakers gained such intimate access to pols: Helmer Mary Lambert, whose extensive career encompasses both Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” musicvid and the Stephen King adaptation “Pet Sematary,” is the older sis of Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-Ark.). Co-producer Nicole Boxer is the daughter of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and is divorced from Tony Rodham, brother of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Leave it to the dean of this close-knit and apparently bi-partisan group, feisty favorite Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), to sum up their mission: “We bring the voice of American families to the United States Senate,” she enthuses. “Not at the macroeco-nomic level, but at the macaroni-and-cheese level.”

With this brief in mind, pic em-ploys marked chapters exploring the Senate’s historically sparse distaff representation, the 1992 “Year of the Woman” that swept them into office in the wake of the Anita Hill scandal and other notable developments. Much is made of the ways these women balance the extreme demands of public service, on the stump and in session, with their private roles as wives and mothers.

Given pic’s lineage, it’s unsur-prising to see Lincoln and Boxer come to the fore. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) remembers being ostracized in law school. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) mov-ingly relates her involvement in the aftermath of the Harvey Milk shooting, while Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) comes as close as pic dares to criticizing current administration policy, pointedly referring to the disparity in fund-ing between the Iraq War and the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Pic is very nearly stolen by a multi-culti quartet of schoolgirls from L.A.’s Thomas Starr King Middle School, who pop up at intervals to offer imaginative opinions on the appropriateness of woman in the Senate. “Because women can use both sides of their brains, they can talk and have feelings at the same time,” says one, in all earnestness. “So they will probably be thinking about how we can make this world a better place.” They unanimously rue being too young to vote for Hillary in 2008.

Other talking heads include Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who flirts with condescension; thrush Alanis Morissette, belting one out at a Boxer fundraiser; and a clutch of rah-rah staffers and family mem-bers. Former President Clinton materializes to show support Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who elsewhere recalls a dismissive rebuff at the State Capitol that spurred her entry into political arena.

Genial tone is compromised by increasingly heavy-handed re-cruitment vibe. “If you like to travel, this is a great job,” gushes Annette Bening in her chipper narration, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) flies around her far-flung state to press constituent flesh. In a similar vein, solo piano score is needlessly manipulative.

Tech package is winning, with a crisp vid lensing team led by Lambert and “Matrix” franchise d.p. Bill Pope (who also receives a “visual consultant” card). Moris-sette’s “Everything,” from her 2004 album “So-Called Chaos,” runs uncredited over the closing crawl. Number of women in the current Senate is 16, following the 2006 elections of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.).

Pic was “made possible” by a grant from title sponsor Wal-Mart.

Fourteen Women

Production

A Vertical Films production. Produced by Sharon Oreck, Mary Lambert, Nicole Boxer. Directed by Mary Lambert.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Lambert, Bill Pope, James Callanan, Elliot Klayman, Michael Cho, Guy Livneh; editors, Michelle Harrison, Stephen Kanter; sound, Terry Kelly, Allen Green, Scott Kinsey, Cho, Ted Roth; associate producer, Kimball Stroud. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, June 19, 2007. (In SilverDocs Film Festival, Silver Spring, Md.) Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Joe Biden, Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Susan M. Collins, Elizabeth Dole, Dianne Feinstein, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mary L. Landrieu, Blanche Lambert Lincoln, Alanis Morissette, Barbara A. Mikulski, Lisa Murkowski, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow, Olympia J. Snowe.
Narrator: Annette Bening.

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