Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017) Poster

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6/10
"A predilection for the extreme" which dogs our subject from childhood into adult life
moonspinner5527 October 2017
Writer Joan Didion's distant relatives crossed the frontier to the Promised Land (California), but not before traveling some stretch of the journey with the doomed Donner party, who separated from the Didions to cross uncharted terrain. Preparing for disaster is something Didion was taught at a young age, knew with certainty as an adult, and then maybe forgot about and had to learn again in 2003 when her adopted daughter, Quintana, became sick and was hospitalized just before Didion's husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack. This stylishly-presented documentary on Didion's life, produced and directed by Didion's nephew, Griffin Dunne, promises to be a heady spread for Netflix and, indeed, we get a thorough blueprint of Joan Didion's long and winding journey. Tracing the author's path from University of California, Berkeley graduate to Vogue magazine writer in New York City in the 1950s, to author of her first novel, "Run, River" in 1963, to becoming Dunne's wife, to their move to Southern California in 1965 and adopting a baby, we get a sense of Didion's spirit as she speaks but nothing much in the way of her personality. What Griffin Dunne extracts from his subject in a recent interview is lovely frosting--listening to Joan and watching her expressive hands reaching out, pell-mell, in dramatic emphasis--but there isn't a substantial, emotional base underneath this. Vintage interview footage of Didion from cable shows and "60 Minutes" actually tell us more about Joan than what we're getting from Griffin Dunne. Interviews with friends and fellow writers add a dash of color, but no insight (actor Harrison Ford, Didion's carpenter in the early '70s, sits down just long enough to tell us how nice Dunne and Didion were to he and his family). Joan's path in life led her back to New York City, where she turned her 2005 book about grieving, "The Year of Magical Thinking", into a Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave. It helps to close the film on a warm note, though interested parties will learn far more about Didion just by reading one of her books--or, if pressed for time, her Wikipedia page. **1/2 from ****
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10/10
Surprisingly Relevant and Touching
hwhaley2001-530-81839829 October 2017
This film is a tribute to Ms. Didion, who was an amazing writer, and her writings were incredible that they were so easy to read and understand. Griffin Dunne does a fantastic job with this. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this film and how much it made me think and maybe tear up a bit. She was an amazing woman whose writings were concise and she was completely unafraid to relate the truth, no matter how unpleasant or downright ugly - or how painful. We have all lost loved ones, children sometimes and certainly spouses, and even innocence in the political and social systems - she really was able to convey the feelings - the reality of loosing major parts of your life and to still survive. This is a wonderful film, and encompasses more than just a tribute to a wonderful Aunt. She is an amazing person.
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10/10
Extremely watchable even if you've never read Joan Didion
tracynorman17 June 2018
Confession: until I watched this documentary, I had never heard of and obviously therefore, never read, any of Joan Didion's novels. So what attracted me to watch this when it was suggested to me on Netflix? Well, the era that it covered, the fact that it said she is a literary icon, and the fact that she is Griffin Dunne's aunt and that he directed it (big fan of Griffin Dunne). The style, grace and beauty of the subject also intrigued me. Having finished watching it, I then watched the trailer here on IMDB and I am so glad that I didn't see the trailer first as it gives everything away and, even though you might guess at a few things along the way, it would most definitely have lessened my enjoyment of the story unfolding at the pace that the director/writer/producer would have liked me to.

This is a beautifully crafted piece of work. It has a gentleness and fragility about it that makes you want to whisper for the rest of the day. It was such a delight to be able to really focus on this film without the sensationalised over the top music screaming at me in short bursts, that is so prevalent now in programming. Thank you so much Griffin Dunne.
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8/10
Her Answers Will Surprise You
dear_prudence15 November 2017
Joan Didion was born in 1934, the same year as Gloria Steinham. They both intrigue me as women writers who earned a living as outsiders--reporters--investigating gender, class, community, and the seismic shifts of the larger cultural world from refreshingly different perspectives.

I confess I didn't know much about Didion's personal life--her famous in-laws, her famous friends--and the documentary flicks out photographs, interviews, and archival footage that are a delight to discover. The film gives you a peek into the intimate life of an intriguing person who worked hard to stay hidden, even though her books are so personal. There is a detachment she employed as a writer to report back to us. The documentary strips away some of the distance.

I found the interviews with Dunne fascinating. Her answers surprised me. I loved seeing how the thread of her life weaved through politics, subcultures, music, film, and her own family. And kudos to Griffin Dunne (and several members of her extended family) for putting this together right now. A reflection worthy of your time.
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10/10
Spellbinding
margaretvojta6 November 2017
I am so amazed by Joan Didion's life, her talents, her brilliance, her strength, and her tragic losses.

In this documentary, you see Joan as she is now - a frail and elderly woman with multiple sclerosis, being interviewed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne. Joan is brilliant and, even though she is in her 80s, you see a spark in her eyes. By the way, she was also married to John Gregory Dunne, a very famous writer as well (whose brother you may know - Dominick Dunne), and you feel like you know John by the end of this documentary.

During this documentary, she talks about a point in her marriage when she and John were going to get a divorce, but moved instead, and eventually stayed together and grew even closer. This amazed me because I assume (since I am not married) and hear that marriages go through peaks and valleys. To see this whole documentary and then wonder what would have happened if they had divorced when they were having problems instead of staying together as they did, this story would not be the same at all. Even after having their problems, it seems (by all accounts) that these two had a great love.

This is not only a documentary, but a lesson for life in a way. I only wish I can be as strong as Joan is when and if I reach her age. She is very open and honest about everything, and you see a side of her that makes you feel like you are watching her without her knowledge -- thoroughly fascinating.

Toward the end of this documentary, there are some very sad and shocking things that happen, but what is amazing is the way that Joan (unprepared as we all are for the death of our loved ones) proceeds with her life, and you will find the way she deals with these tragedies astonishingly brave. I knew Joan was and is a wonderful and a one-of-a-kind writer, but I didn't know what an amazing person she is as well.

This documentary is a must-see, even if you have just for the first time learned about Joan Didion. It is an especially beautiful experience for lovers of Joan's writing, as well as lovers of literature and life.
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6/10
Why did it take so long for a Didion biopic?
bettycjung28 October 2017
10/28/17. Oh my, what if Griffin Dunne didn't do this biopic when he did? Didion is now in her early 80s and it's amazing why there wasn't one done before this one. Such a celebrated writer and screenwriter finally got what she deserved. While well-known her private life was filled with tragedy, from the sudden death of her husband and early death of her only daughter at 39. Her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, is perhaps the best book ever about how those left behind deal with the death of a loved one. That book and this movie are worth catching.
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8/10
Incredibly Intwresting Piece
eandrusk12 March 2019
A film that carefully cronicles one of the best writers of our century. I found it thought provoking and although sad, one would be remiss to not watch it. Especially helpful for younger generations who perhaps did not grow up reading her books, but can still appreciate their appeal.
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10/10
GREAT STUFF...BUT AT A PRICE...!
masonfisk30 July 2018
A fascinating doc made by Joan's nephew, actor/director Griffin Dunne, illustrating the prose of the West Coast scribe who had her hand in all things political, social & literary. Not may writers can use their words like Joan does. They can be barbs against the supposed hierarchy, shields against the attacks of your detractors or cornerstones to one's own stature for posterity. Slightly knowing who Joan Didion was, I knew she was a respected novelist but the length & breadth of her career is an inspiring primer to investigate into what made this woman tick.
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