Being Mary Tyler Moore (Documentary Review)

First premiering on September 19th of 1970, the opening lyric to The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song described the leading actress perfectly with, “Who Can Turn The World On With A Smile?” Quite fitting, Mary Tyler Moore began her career in entertainment professionally around 1955, and in the decades to follow would become one of the most beloved stars in television. A repeat award-winner, she was a woman who meant so much to so many, and when she passed away in the winter of 2017 at eighty years old, it was truly a sorrowful time in American entertainment history.

An individual impossible to forget, nearly six years after her passing, HBO released a new documentary film honoring Mary Tyler Moore on March 13, 2023. Spanning nearly two hours, and directed by James Adolphus, Being Mary Tyler Moore employs a modern approach to documentary biography storytelling where there is no singular narrator, but instead dialogue that is mostly from achieved interviews from the film’s subject themselves. A technique effectively used in more recent documentary films such as 2022’s Moonage DayDream (about David Bowie)  or 2023’s Wham! (about George Michael & Andrew Ridgeley), in Being Mary Tyler Moore this style is amply powerful; because you feel as if the late performer is actually speaking to you directly.

Featuring a ton of quality archived footage, perhaps the most bonding aspect of this film are the candid interviews with Moore. Interviews which span a few decades – from when The Mary Tyler Moore Show was on the air to the years after – the common thread is the sincerity in Moore’s replies to interviewers and the emotions expressed on her face.

First earning notary on The Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961 to 1965 as Laura Petrie, Moore and her husband (Grant Tinker) at the time would later go onto form her own company MTM Enterprises which produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show as well as other successful television shows and films. An interesting transformation from playing a character who was a stay-at-home wife in The Dick Van Dyke Show, to portraying a single career woman in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the constant was always Moore’s undeniable positive, upbeat aura.

That in mind, Being Mary Tyler Moore does a good job of showing you that perhaps Moore’s real off-screen life was not always as bright as her onscreen performances. However, the direction does not follow a particular agenda and Adolphus does a marvelous job of really letting Moore tell her own story. So, what is that story? Well, it depends on your point of view, but you can certainly feel there was every bit of Moore in each of the characters she portrayed on television, in film, as well as in the theater.

Like many of us, Moore had moments of tragedy throughout her life, all matched with various peaks and valleys. While this may have not always seemed clear to viewers during the height of her public fame, Moore was quite keen on keeping her emotions close to herself while preserving her privacy. Knowing this, and watching the documentary unfold, you somehow find something new to love about her; and that is the sheer elegant, dignified nature of her being.

You see, some may have been critical of Moore for not doing what they considered enough to progress the women’s liberation movement of the late ’60s into the ’70s. That said, she never wavered or concerned herself with appeasing any mass of people. She was an individual and that is truly what any movement should be about; not about all a part of such a movement following the same exact trains of thought. Furthermore, while Moore may seem like a vulnerable figure at certain points in this documentary film, like we all are at times, she does overall beam a glaring sense of strength in the face of adversity, and that is really quite inspiring.

Overall, Being Mary Tyler Moore has plenty to offer longtime fans of hers, but also those who may have not known her too well, or a younger generation interested in learning something new. Through the aforementioned archival interviews with Moore, to her personal home videos, to interviews with her nearest and dearest friends, you really feel closer to her in an extraordinary way. One of the most important women in the performance and arts culture of America – due to her talents, strength, and energy – Mary Tyler Moore should and never will be forgotten. Well worth watching, Cryptic Rock gives Being Mary Tyler Moore 5 out of 5  stars. 

Being Mary Tyler Moore / HBO (2023)

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