Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold Screen 71 of 7 reviews

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

2017

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold Poster
  • A fond and appreciative portrait of one of American journalism’s superstars, “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” may not contain any revelations that will surprise those who’ve followed Didion’s eloquent, often autobiographical writing over the years. But the fact that it was made by her nephew, actor/filmmaker Griffin Dunne, gives it a warmth and intimacy that might not have graced a more standard documentary.

  • Anyone who likes those Paris Review pieces about the minutiae of writers’ existence will enjoy this film. We learn that Didion used to start the day in dark glasses, always with a cold glass of Coke at hand; she also, when stuck, likes to put a difficult manuscript in the freezer. Literally in the freezer. It’s a very beautiful film, rich in images, from family photos and home-movie moments... to found material, for which Dunne and editor Ann Collins share a very acute eye.

  • The relationship between Mr. Dunne and Ms. Didion limits the movie in certain ways, but opens it up in others. Mr. Dunne’s longtime family connections and his own prestige as a filmmaker no doubt helped him snag interviews that other documentarians would be hard-pressed to schedule. Ms. Didion’s friend Calvin Trillin is among the interviewees, and while I’d never dare suggest that great writer is not a big get, I was impressed in a different way when Harrison Ford showed up.

  • Didion speaks very bluntly here, and sometime shockingly... This is not a hagiography or a standard tribute to Didion. Because of her own questioning presence on screen and also her voice-over when she reads from her own work, Didion seems to be in charge of this movie, and she does not flatter herself. She admits to a lot, including the ruthlessness and dispassion needed to write journalism on her high level.

  • They’re not remotely hard-hitting (why should they be?), although each revisits tough times and critical jabs and stings. Both documentaries lean on reminiscences, their own and those of their subjects, and make expressive use of archival images, including some wonderful home movies.

  • Scenes of Didion chopping up cucumbers recall Chantal Akerman in their quotidian specificity..., but the documentary fails to wrangle with its iconoclast subject's legacy, to challenge or provoke or excavate bizarre details the way Didion did as a journalist. It's intimate like a dinner party that's been rehearsed—a loving ode rather than a revealing portrait, light-hearted instead of enlightening.

  • Didion speaks frankly but tersely with the filmmaker, and her gestures seem to sculpt the air with thoughts that she phrases precisely and delivers with a comedian’s sense of timing, but the interviews aren’t copious or probing: controversies and conflicts are averted. Instead, the film offers many voice-over excerpts from Didion’s work; the result, though loving and celebratory, is closer to an official portrait than an illuminating biography.

More Links