Tuesday, September 8, 2020


Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story (2020) d. April Wright (USA) (85 min)

Remember when Joan Wilder took her big slide down the mountain in Romancing the Stone? Or when Trinity raced against traffic on a motorcycle in The Matrix Reloaded? Or when Kara and Letty beat the crap out of each other (wearing evening gowns) in Furious 7? These are some of the most memorable moments in their respective films, and you’ll notice that I refer to them by their character names, as opposed to the performers that played them. That’s because for each of these moments, it’s not Kathleen Turner, Carrie-Ann Moss, Ronda Rousey, or Michelle Rodriguez whose actions we’re applauding, but rather those of the less-recognized Jeannie Epper, Debbie Evans, Heidi Moneymaker, and Renae Moneymaker taking falls, burning rubber, and kicking ass. This is the world of the stuntwoman and, as narrator/exec producer Rodriguez declares in the intro of director Wright’s eye-opening documentary, “The best ones are invisible… until now.”

Based on Mollie Gregory’s best-selling 2018 book, Wright (Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie) and her able team examine the history of stuntwomen from the earliest days of motion pictures, when daredevil females performed astonishing feats of adventure and physical comedy alongside their male counterparts. However, as we quickly learn, as movies became increasingly popular and profitable, women were summarily pushed aside as Hollywood became male dominant on both sides of the camera. As recently as the turn of the 21st century, men were still pulling on wigs and dresses to double for actresses (and even more shamefully, white stuntmen “painted down” while capable men and women of color stood on the sidelines).

However, thanks to the efforts of veterans like Epper (TV’s Wonder Woman), Julie Ann Johnson (TV’s Charlie’s Angels), and Jadie David (Foxy Brown), those barriers continued to be pushed and prodded, creating space for the higher-profile superstars of today such as Zoe Bell, Jessie Graff, Donna Keegan, Melissa Stubbs, Jennifer Caputo, and the sibling teams of Donna/Debbie Evans and Heidi/Renae Moneymaker.

Rising stunt performers Amy Johnston and Alyma Dorsey take us through their backstage training paces of gunplay, explosions, combat sequences, high falls, and car maneuvers, as well as sitting down with Epper, Johnson, and David for interview sequences to share their respective challenges on and off the sets, then and now. Rodriguez and film historian Ben Mankiewicz also moderate a discussion of stunt performers’ formative years, showcasing numerous breathtaking feats of black-and-white derring-do.

Rodriguez later meets up with her Fast and Furious driving double Debbie Evans, a hairpin force of nature with over 400 stunt credits to her name, to take a few high-speed turns around her suburban neighborhood with Evans’ son (also a stunt driver) in hot pursuit.

Unsurprisingly, the moments with the most dramatic weight belong to Epper, Keegan, and David, as they tearfully reflect on fallen comrades or the fact that their once-invincible bodies have paid a high price for years of fame-free service. But there is an equal amount of joy when they talk of their memorable achievements (Keegan doubling for Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies and Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) or watching Stubbs positively own her X-Files set as stunt coordinator.

If there is a weakness to Wright’s vision, it’s that the project feels a little glossy, covering an abundance of terrain in a brief amount of time, without a strong narrative through-line. With clips from over 100 film and television shows, there’s plenty of onscreen action and rarely a dull moment amid the flurry of skids and skirmishes, but the weighty issues are plentiful (sexism, drug use, lawsuits, injuries, the dearth of females in positions of power) and the insights sometimes superficial, such that we are left wanting for a legitimate build and/or climax.

For example, it would have been nice learning the nuts and bolts of various training methods (how exactly does one learn how to get hit by a car? what makes somebody qualified to be set on fire?) or to dig deeper into how these performers stay safe despite being unable to pad up the same as their male counterparts, due to revealing wardrobe choices (bringing to mind the old quote, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels”). A few high-profile on-set mishaps are highlighted, and one senses this is a much deeper subject even as we briskly move on. All too often, Wright (and the 80-minute run-time) pique our curiosities without fully satisfying them.

Despite these minor quibbles, Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story is a celebration of a small but growing band of invisible warriors who continue to dazzle audiences in this age of computer-generated magic and mayhem. Nothing can wow us quite like seeing a human being performing inhuman feats of strength and agility, and these powerful women have earned their moments in the spotlight.

Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story debuts September 22, 2020 from Shout! Studios for Watch-At-Home Digital Platforms including AppleTV, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, hoopla, Fandango Now, Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, and Charter.




  1. I gotta check this one out. One of the things that I keep looking for in movies coming out is to see if films have female stunt and fight coordinators. I forget what movie I just looked up but it has a female stunt coordinator. I wish I had a better memory.

    1. Funny you should mention it, since I just watched The Hunt (2020) and they had a little featurette talking about the climactic fight scene which was choreographed by Heidi Moneymaker (who is profiled in the movie). It makes so much sense that you should have female stunt coordinators choreographing female fights, right? They know how female bodies move, and they are going to be inherently closer to the character.