Film & Television

Hillary, Chelsea, and Other ‘Gutsy’ Women

Although I’ll admit it’s sometimes difficult to watch, I’ve been a fan of Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale since it launched in 2017. We were just three months into the Trump administration, and the show was strikingly relevant. Almost immediately, protesters began wearing the iconic red robes and white caps of handmaids as they held rallies to protect women’s rights. And, meme after meme compared scenes from Gilead with post-2016 election America.

My favorite was an image of two handmaids (Ofglen and Offred) miserably shopping in the stark dystopian grocery store. The caption read … “But her emails.”

For better or worse, you’d be hard pressed to name a more polarizing figure than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

So, it’s little wonder that the greatest hurdle in every episode of the new documentary series Gutsy is Madame Secretary herself. In eight 40-minute installments, Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea (also known as the show’s writers, executive producers, and hosts) introduce us to “gutsy women,” doing important work and living remarkable lives. But, in virtually every case, there’s a push and pull between the 2016 presidential candidate and her 2022 subjects. It’s a shame really. A larger-than-life political figure, who inspires as much hate as she does love, Hillary can’t help being the center of attention no matter how hard she tries.

And, in Gutsy, she really tries.

Based on New York Times bestseller The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience, which Clinton and Clinton published in 2019. Gutsy is part profiles in (female) courage, part history lesson, and part bigenerational road trip. Hillary and Chelsea are truly buddies, playing off each other in perfect rhythm, and reminiscing about their earlier years together in Little Rock and Washington. It’s familiar and oddly reassuring to note that their memories differ in exactly the way you would expect a mother’s and a daughter’s to do.

“You said I could get my ears pierced when I turned twelve!” “I never did! Twenty, maybe.” You get the general idea.

Both women are willing to reveal at least a bit more about themselves than they have in the past. Early on, Chelsea admits to feeling bullied on a rather grand, national scale as a child. She’s never appreciated comedy because as a child of twelve, she was the target of a mean-spirited sketch on Saturday Night Live. “I couldn’t believe that a writer’s room full of adults thought it was ok to make fun of a child.” Hilary, for her part, jokes about living under a microscope besieged by haters, although she is fairly candid about her decision to stay with her unfaithful husband, calling it “the bravest” thing she ever did. She also explains how an upskirt photo from a trip to Brazil led to her penchant for pantsuits. (Who knew?)

Each episode centers around a particular theme and includes familiar celebrities, activists, representatives of marginalized groups, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The Clintons, mère et fille, seem genuinely interested in each story they hear. They also engage in activities that range from the random (bowling with Wanda Sykes), to the convivial (tea with Amy Schumer), from the flavorful (making acorn soup with Quannah Chasinghorse), to the fearless (training with women of the FDNY). At times these extracurriculars seem. . . well. . .nonessential — how much does a tango lesson with Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson really tell us about motherhood? But, they do break up what might otherwise feel like talking heads. And, they certainly give us a sense that Hillary and Chelsea are good sports.

A playful tone is set in the first episode, “Gutsy Women Have the Last Laugh,” in which we learn that Chelsea adored “knock-knock” jokes as a child and watch as a Parisian fromagerie inspires a cringey joke from Hillary. In “Gutsy Women Refuse Hate,” Megan Thee Stallion turns to painting for stress-relief, while former neo-Nazis and the mothers of two hate crime victims devote their lives to changing hearts and minds. “Gutsy Women Seek Justice” may instill some respect for Kim Kardashian, while “Gutsy Women Are Rebel Hearts” looks at marriage through different lenses. Jane Goodall, who recommends whiskey if you need to speak on camera, is a highlight of the fifth episode “Gutsy Women Are Forces of Nature,” while a determined and inventive mother, who you have probably never heard of, proves that “Gutsy Women Step Up.” We travel to Arkansas where we meet two of the “Little Rock Nine” in “Gutsy Women Take Leaps.” And, despite the aforementioned tango, the final episode “Gutsy Women Are a Bunch of Mothers” expands the definition of motherhood and celebrates the family that we choose.

Throughout, the series is smart, engaging, and at times quite moving. Each episode is edited into a crazy quilt of scenes rather than a linear progression of three or four discreet stories. So, we might see a scene of Gloria Steinem and the Clintons crafting right-hand rings, followed by a scene of Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle discussing over brunch how they met and fell in love, then a scene of Hillary speaking with reverend and anti-racist advocate Whitney Ijanaten, then Hillary and Chelsea reflecting on their own marriages, and back again to Steinem. In this way, the chapters move along quickly and never feel like an episode of 60 Minutes.

Chances are, Gutsy won’t change the way you feel about the former first lady and daughter. If Hillary has always made you roll your eyes or grit your teeth, if you can’t leave Benghazi and personal servers in the past, you should probably avoid it.

If, however, you’d like to meet a few dozen incredible women you’ve never heard of (and learn more about some that you definitely have heard of), Hillary and Chelsea are more than adequate guides.

Their observations are keen; their enthusiasm is infectious. And, the genuine love and respect they feel for each other is something we can all celebrate as mothers and daughters — and gutsy women — ourselves.

All eight episodes of Gutsy are available to stream on Apple TV+.

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