Sundance Film Review: ‘Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper’

The star CNN journalist leads us on a guided tour of his socialite mother's colorful 90-plus years.

Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper, Pearson Marx, Alfred Vanderbilt, Stan Stokowski.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5275872/

Many a still-alert nonagenarian would doubtless appreciate an offspring orchestrating a review of their life to date, although you might have to be Anderson Cooper for the result to take the form of an HBO-produced documentary feature. The CNN journalist’s mom, of course, is famous in her own right. Liz Garbus’ “Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper” is an entertaining overview of the famed heiress’ colorful history to date, drawing on an extensive trove of archival materials and the subject’s own testimony. Casting her as a brave survivor of numerous travails, this glossy, somewhat superfluous recap of an already much-examined life leaves one question unasked: Would there be any pressing reason to care about their personal hardships if these protagonists weren’t longtime celebrities? The Sundance-preemed pic bows on U.S. cable April 9.

As his mother passes 90 years, Cooper, her youngest son, decides to go through voluminous stores of long-neglected correspondence and mementoes, as well as have extensive on-camera sit-down sessions. They cover a saga familiar in outline to most Americans over a certain age: that of the original “poor little rich girl,” a transportation empire’s sole heir subjected to a scandalous high-profile custody battle between her somewhat irresponsible young socialite mother and older relatives when she was a child in the mid-1930s. (This had the unfortunate effect of separating her from the beloved nanny who’d done the real “parenting” from birth.)

Desire to escape the yoke of family control led to a short-lived first marriage; a longer second one to legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski, four decades her senior; a third to director Sidney Lumet; and finally to actor/scenarist Wyatt Cooper, an apparently happy union that ended when he succumbed to heart disease at age 50. Anderson Cooper was the youngest of their two sons; she had two more previously with Stokowski. Between these nuptial commitments, her lovers included Ray Milland and Frank Sinatra. Still immaculately turned out, she admits having always “loved being in love.”

The premature deaths of her father (when she was an infant), last husband and one son are viewed in terms of their personal impact on Vanderbilt (and that latter event on Anderson Cooper), triggering a certain lifelong, restless discontent. Seeking the fulfillment of self-expression and media attention, she dabbled in acting, modeling, design, writing and more, most famously branding a still-extant popular line of designer blue jeans.

While Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?,” “Bobby Fischer Against the World,” “The Farm: Angola USA”) is a highly accomplished documentarian whose intelligence can be felt shaping this sleek package throughout, it nonetheless feels like something of a vanity project, with Anderson Cooper firmly in control. Undoubtedly he gets more out of his mother than a more disinterested interviewer might. But at the same time, both are such practiced camera personalities that one can never be sure just where the line between heartfelt self-examination and discreet public performance lies. (Some unpleasant but significant topics are skipped or barely mentioned, such as Vanderbilt’s estrangement from an older child by Stokowski.)

Certainly the notion of a son preserving Mom’s keepsakes and reminiscences just to make sure “nothing is left unsaid” between them seems a tad disingenuous when that interchange involves engaging an Oscar-nominated filmmaker to make a movie for national broadcast. Do their private pains require the validation of public exposure? (Or rather, more public exposure; Vanderbilt has already published five memoirs.) Though he’s half-apologetic about raising the idea, there are a few wince-inducing moments when Anderson Cooper suggests his familial experiences of loss prepared him for covering the horrors of overseas war zones. Similarly, the air of gravity lent this admittedly affectionate, personal project doesn’t entirely succeed in justifying what often comes off like an extended high-end version of the archetypal Barbara Walters interview in which a confessing celebrity is made to cry on camera, on cue.

Having been photographed (often as a de facto fashion model) and filmed virtually since birth, Vanderbilt certainly provides a diverse, glamorous and star-studded visual biography, her devotion to changing fashion reflected in no end of striking personal looks. Perhaps the pic’s most unfamiliar aspect, and one of its most interesting, is seeing how her artwork in various media (mostly painting) has also undergone constant chameleonic shifts over the decades, revealing skill and imagination if not necessarily first-rank talent. The slick documentary’s collage of elements is further diversified by brief animation of those canvases. All tech/design contributions are smoothly polished.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres), Jan. 23, 2016. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An HBO Documentary Films production. Produced by Liz Garbus. Executive producers, Anderson Cooper, Sheila Nevins. Co-producers, Karen K.H. Sim, Adrienne Collatos.

Crew: Directed by Liz Garbus. Camera (color/B&W, HD), Tom Hurwitz; editor, Karen K.H. Sim; music, Thomas Rutishauser; animation, Molly Shwartz; sound, Tammy Douglas, David Hocs, Michael Jones, Eric Lork, Mark Maloof, Peter Miller, Eddie O'Connor; supervising sound editors, Tony Volante, Steve Glammaria; re-recording mixer, Volante.

With: Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper, Pearson Marx, Alfred Vanderbilt, Stan Stokowski.

More Film

  • Global Screen Nabs ‘Amazing Maurice,’ Based

    Global Screen Picks Up ‘The Amazing Maurice,’ Based on Terry Pratchett’s Novel (EXCLUSIVE)

    Global Screen has picked up worldwide distribution rights, excluding North America, the U.K. and German-speaking territories, to the English-language animated feature “The Amazing Maurice,” based on a Terry Pratchett novel. The screenplay has been written by Terry Rossio, Oscar-nominated for “Shrek.” Rossio’s credits also include the animated movie “Aladdin” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” [...]

  • Yoji Yamada-directed film is to open

    Tokyo Market: Shochiku Launches Horror, Comedy and Mystery Lineup

    Major Japanese studio, Shochiku has the honor of leading off next week’s Tokyo International Film Festival with its “Tora-san, Wish You Were Here.” The film is a revival of a beloved in-house drama franchise, directed by veteran Yoji Yamada, that is set as the event’s opening night gala presentation. Before that, the company has the [...]

  • The Truth

    Singapore Festival to Focus on Asian Excellence for 30th Edition

    For its 30th edition the Singapore International Film Festival has avoided programming novelty and instead focused on assembling excellence – mostly indie titles — from Asia and further afield. The festival, which previously announced local filmmaker Anthony Chen’s second feature “Wet Season” as its opening night gala presentation, announced the balance of its programming on [...]

  • Isabela Moner Dora the Explorer

    Film News Roundup: Isabela Merced Boards Jason Momoa's 'Sweet Girl' for Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, Isabela Merced get cast opposite Jason Momoa, “Starbright” gets financing and AFM announces its speakers. CASTING Isabela Merced, formerly Isabela Moner, has come on board to portray the daughter of Jason Momoa in his upcoming revenge thriller “Sweet Girl” for Netflix. Momoa will play a devastated man who vows to [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Seeks to Throw Out Gender Pay Gap Lawsuit

    The Walt Disney Co. is seeking to throw out a lawsuit alleging that women employees are paid less than men, arguing that the suit is too sprawling and unwieldy to handle as a class action. Andrus Anderson LLP filed the suit in April, alleging that Disney’s hiring and pay practices have a discriminatory effect on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content