“Joyce Carol Oates: A Body in the Service of Mind”
Rotten Tomatoes (4/5), Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)
Telling the story of a talented and prolific artist can be quite a challenge: What should be included? What should be excluded? And how should the narrative effectively fuse the personal and professional sides of the artist’s life? It’s a task that’s easy to get wrong (and, unfortunately, it happens far too often in many contemporary film biographies). So it’s indeed comforting to see one that gets things right, as is the case with this well-crafted documentary about writer Joyce Carol Oates, author of more than 100 books (many of them award winners) in multiple genres, both under her own name and several pseudonyms. On top of that, though, she has also developed a renowned reputation as a professor and as an outspoken and eloquent liberal social and political critic, both through her writings and social media posts. Writer-director Stig Björkman’s latest presents a comprehensive, articulate and skillfully organized profile of Oates, showing how her meager beginnings played a role in her love of writing and the views she embraced upon coming of age, themes repeatedly reflected in her prose. The film accomplishes all this in a clear, concise, balanced, economically packaged offering, making its points about her public and personal lives without unduly belaboring them and backing them up with voice-over readings from her books by Laura Dern. If I had any complaint about this release, it would be that its ending seems a bit abrupt and truncated, almost as if the filmmaker didn’t quite know how to suitably wrap up the project. There’s really no need for this, either, given that the picture’s efficient 1:34:00 runtime is far from excessive. That aside, however, this is an otherwise-excellent overview of a writer whose works truly deserve all the gracious attention and praise that they receive, providing Oates’s fans with a fitting tribute of the author and viewers unfamiliar with her books plenty of good reason to give them a serious look.