Liza A Truly Terrific Absolutely True Story Review Minnelli Doc

Liza A Truly Terrific Absolutely True Story Review Minnelli Doc

Anyone who has witnessed Liza Minnelli perform knows the mutual love between her and her audience is her lifeblood. This symbiotic relationship is the heart of Bruce David Klein’s documentary, “Liza: A Truly Terrific Absolutely True Story.” The title perfectly captures the essence of a woman who can turn any sentence into a superlative. Despite her struggles and physical frailty, Minnelli’s infectious laughter throughout the film shows she remains undefeated.

The documentary kicks off with a whirlwind montage of magazine covers and clips, accompanied by effusive praise from her fans. Klein doesn’t shy away from adoration but also doesn’t gloss over the challenges Minnelli faced. Born into the spotlight, she had to live up to constant comparisons to her mother, Judy Garland, while navigating her own path. Every failed romance, marriage, and battle with substance abuse became tabloid fodder. Yet, the film isn’t hagiography; it’s infused with Minnelli’s generous spirit.

Minnelli’s gratitude extends especially to the five mentors who helped shape her luminous persona. Leading this group is Kay Thompson, her vocal coach, nightclub performer, and godmother. Thompson took Minnelli under her wing after Garland’s funeral, offering wisdom like, “Don’t go around with people you don’t like.” This advice became a guiding principle for Minnelli, who paid tribute to Thompson in her 2008 Broadway show, “Liza’s at the Palace.”

French chansonnier Charles Aznavour was another key influence, teaching Minnelli to act a song, making every lyric heartfelt. This skill is evident in her performances, especially in “But the World Goes ‘Round” from “New York, New York,” which closes the film. Bob Fosse, who directed her to an Oscar in “Cabaret” and an Emmy for “Liza With a Z,” brought discipline and focus to her dance moves, despite her not having the precision of a typical Fosse dancer.

Fred Ebb, the musical theater lyricist, was a significant figure in both her professional and personal life. Ebb and his composer partner John Kander cast Minnelli in her first Broadway show, “Flora the Red Menace,” and their work remained central to her career. Ebb’s influence was so profound that Minnelli credits him with inventing her as a performer.

Halston, the fashion designer, was another major force, creating her iconic look for “Liza With a Z” and beyond. His designs helped her shine on stage, even hiding the sweat with sequins. Halston also played a role in her years as a New York nightlife fixture, particularly at Studio 54.

Minnelli’s selective reminiscences focus on the positives, even when discussing Studio 54, where she insists, “Nobody did drugs. They just didn’t.” She also avoids spilling tea about her former husbands and romantic partners, preferring to highlight the enduring friendships that often outlasted the relationships.

In the interviews, Minnelli, now in her late 70s and in fragile health, remains sharp, funny, and candid. She directs Klein on camera angles and editing, adding another layer of authenticity to the film. Her loyal friends, who became her family, help fill in the gaps, discussing her addiction issues and the sadness of never having children.

While the film omits some aspects of her career, like her non-musical roles in “The Sterile Cuckoo,” “Arthur,” or “Arrested Development,” and doesn’t delve into her status as a gay icon, these are minor quibbles. The documentary uses a wealth of archival material and intimate access to create a beautiful portrait of a legendary showbiz survivor.

Klein’s direction, combined with outstanding editing by Alexander Goldstein and Jake Keene, brings viewers as close to the magic of Minnelli’s stage shows as possible. While the film may not cover every aspect of her life, it’s a warm, celebratory, and authentic tribute to a truly terrific icon.

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