'The Education of Dee Dee Ricks'

A brave movie, and one whose credibility is salvaged by its title, "The Education of Dee Dee Ricks" charts the personal journey of a woman who seemingly has everything, until the onset of breast cancer changes her worldview.

A brave movie, and one whose credibility is salvaged by its title, “The Education of Dee Dee Ricks” charts the personal journey of a woman who seemingly has everything, until the onset of breast cancer changes her worldview. The crux of this highly subjective doc, helmed by onetime news anchor Perri Peltz, is the subject’s realization — or “education” — that not everyone has her advantages, and that, yes, there’s a genuine healthcare crisis in this country. Ricks’ naivete may be off-putting, but her sincerity is disarming and her candor admirable. HBO exposure will help the film reach its intended aud.

Anyone who admits she “can’t spend the money I’m making fast enough” is crying out for some remedial education in public relations: One of the first scenes in the film shows Ricks singing on an arena stage with Aerosmith, a privilege for which she admits paying $400,000. Hedge funds and financial networking are her bread and butter; she lives in a $14 million Manhattan apartment; she has two young sons who want for nothing (the question of where Dad might be is never asked or answered).

Then, she’s diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

Fearing that her boys won’t remember her should the cancer prove fatal, Ricks begins recording herself, and this early footage provides Peltz with the foundation for what will be a series of discoveries, for both Ricks and the viewer. Cancer, Ricks learns, is not cheap: She may not be strapped by the costs she incurs, but she realizes that, for women without health insurance, breast cancer can be a death sentence regardless of how early it is detected. This leads her to Dr. Harold Freeman and the Ralph Lauren Cancer Care Center in East Harlem, where Ricks is so impressed by Freeman’s work she promises to raise the $2 million he needs for a matching grant. It’s a generous, but perfectly plausible gesture — Ricks operates in a high-end world. But the fund-raising also provides one of the movie’s dramatic fulcrums because, as Ricks soon learns, raising money for breast cancer is not easy.

What prevents the viewer from getting really irritated with Ricks is her courage; a beautiful woman, she throws vanity aside and exposes herself and the ravages of her cancer without hesitation; she seems so guileless you forgive her the epiphany about other people’s problems, because she actually tries to do something about them. Her friendship with fellow cancer patient Cynthia Dodson, who doesn’t share Ricks’ economic advantages, is genuine and necessary — as Peltz obviously realized, the doc required another p.o.v., especially one from the other side of the health-insurance gulf.

The film’s forays into various areas of cancer treatment and recovery — wig-making, for instance, and reconstructive surgery — are enlightening, sad, but occasionally quite humorous, thanks in part to Ricks’ self-deprecating attitude.

Tech credits are mixed, but Arielle Amsalem’s editing is first-rate.

The Education of Dee Dee Ricks

Production

An HBO Documentary Films presentation in association with Healthy Communications. Produced by Lisa R. Cohen. Executive producers, Jane Rosenthal, Sheila Nevins. Directed by Perri Peltz.

Crew

Camera (color), Tom Mason; editor, Arielle Amsalem; music, Michael Bacon; sound, Chris Bertolotti; associate producer, Jecca Taudte. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Special Events), May 1, 2011. Running time: 71 MIN.

With

Dee Dee Ricks, Harold P. Freeman, Cynthia Dodson.

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