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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Double Dare (review)

In a male-dominated industry — filmmaking — there’s probably not a specialty more fueled by testosterone than stuntwork, and the women who choose this bruise- and discrimination-ridden path are exactly as tough as you’d expect. Two of them are profiled in Amanda Micheli’s festival-favorite documentary, which never lets its enormous love and respect for its subjects interfere with its straightforward and clear-eyed observations. Sixtysomething Jeannie Epper is the veteran, daughter of a legendary family of stuntfolk Steven Spielberg here calls “the flying Wallendas of film” and one of the very few women who broke new ground in the 1960s and 70s in Hollywood with their determination and awesome physicality — as Lynda Carter’s stand-in for the Wonder Woman TV series, Epper actually had to be a lot tougher than her male counterparts, pulling off dangerous jumps and rolls in high heels and without protective padding; the skimpy costumes just didn’t allow it. The gender politics are better for newcomer Zoë Bell, an Epper protégée, but the costumes haven’t improved: as Lucy Lawless’s stand-in on Xena: Warrior Princess, Bell was just as exposed during her wire-flying and simulated hand-to-hand combat. On top of the usual challenges facing working women — like juggling jobs and child care — they’ve got to contend with career-threatening injuries, the pressure to stay strong and thin, and the near-impossibilities of finding regular work and moving up the production food chain (Epper notes that a stuntman of her age would now be a second-unit director). But the enthusiasm, generosity, and dedication of Epper and Bell are infectious, as is their absolute love of the crazy stuff they do for a living, and this is a wonderful tribute to them.


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MPAA: not rated

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

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