Editor’s Note: Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star makes its world premiere at TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 28 at 6:30 p.m., with an introduction and Q&A by director Larry Weinstein. For more information, visit tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Leslie Caron was only 16 years old when Gene Kelly saw her dance on stage and knew she would be the perfect co-star for his upcoming musical An American in Paris (1951). Untrained as an actress and new to the United States, Caron alternated between nerves and irritation during the film’s production. As she tells it in Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star, the new documentary by Larry Weinstein, the studio floors were hell on a dancer’s feet, she didn’t know much English and, though she professes her respect for Kelly, is clearly yet another one of his co-stars who didn’t much enjoy working on his films.
At 85, Caron is charming, witty, self-aggrandizing, emotional, conveniently forgetful and calculatingly candid, an unapologetic raconteur and everything you want an aging Hollywood grande dame to be.
Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star follows the life and career of the Paris-born dancer who starred in some of the best and most important American films of the 1950s. At 85, Caron is charming, witty, self-aggrandizing, emotional, conveniently forgetful and calculatingly candid, an unapologetic raconteur and everything you want an aging Hollywood grande dame to be. The documentary runs just under an hour and features film clips and interviews with Caron, usually perched on a sofa with her adorable and lazy little dog. It would be a joy to listen to Caron speak for another hour, and another, and another after that, but it wouldn’t be particularly informative. What this documentary lacks is someone’s voice — anyone’s voice — to compliment Caron’s, to put things into perspective and gently guide the story of her life into something more than the sour grapes tale it threatens to become.
Made on the occasion of Caron packing up and leaving France, disgruntled because the French film industry had studiously ignored her for decades, Reluctant Star also serves as a bit of an advertisement for the British miniseries The Durrells, co-produced by her son and in which she has a featured role. It’s a good role, and as Caron has said in interviews, the move has allowed her to be near her children, though you’d never know that by watching Reluctant Star.
Truncated as it may be, her insight into the Hollywood star machine is unique and fascinating, especially her experience as a woman in a highly closed-minded, conservative era.
Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star is a crash course in the life of Leslie Caron, told in strictly linear form, with a few interesting pictures and a couple of brief attempts to recapture the past. All of that is nice enough, but the real meat of the documentary is in Caron’s own words. Truncated as it may be, her insight into the Hollywood star machine is unique and fascinating, especially her experience as a woman in a highly closed-minded, conservative era. She has a keen understanding of both the business and the artistic side of Hollywood films, and her story, tempered with healthy skepticism, is a must-see for all fans of classic cinema.
With a short runtime and broad focus, Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star may not offer up any new information for fans of the Franco-American movie star, but is a delightful and charming watch nonetheless.