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It Was a Wonderful Life

Jodie Foster , Lou Hall , Michèle Ohayon  |  NR |  DVD
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Jodie Foster, Lou Hall, Reena Sands, Josephine, Marie
  • Directors: Michèle Ohayon
  • Producers: Michèle Ohayon, Elisa M. Rothstein, Kimberly Marteau, Patricia Braun, Tamar E. Glaser
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Docurama
  • DVD Release Date: February 24, 2004
  • Run Time: 82 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00016XNI4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #292,065 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "It Was a Wonderful Life" on IMDb

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In this award-winning festival standout, Academy Award nominee Michèle Ohayon (Colors Straight Up) presents a riveting and powerful account of six women who are members of America’s growing "hidden homeless" population. Narrated by Jodie Foster, and with

The 1992 documentary It Was a Wonderful Life won several awards for its depiction of homeless women--the "hidden homeless" who don't sit on the streets and beg for change, but who live in motels and cars, often with children, while they desperately try to set their lives right. Several of the movie's subjects were left helpless from a bad divorce; one woman, a former singer, was abandoned by her affluent husband while pregnant with his sixth child. He now avoids paying child support, trusting in an over-loaded bureaucracy with limited power to enforce the law. It Was a Wonderful Life isn't the most artfully made documentary, but after listening to the revealing stories of these women--all struggling but determined to survive--you'll find yourself sizing up your own life, wondering if a brief illness or a lost job could steal your own life away. Narrated by Jodie Foster with music by Melissa Etheridge. --Bret Fetzer

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
I'm in my late 40s, and this film portrayed the situation that I fear most - losing my job and not being able to find another one, then losing my apartment, and then being at the mercy of the elements. I have very little family to fall back on, and I could only count on them for very short-term assistance. I suffer from mental illness that can only be controlled with medication, so losing access to medical insurance would plunge me back into depression and emotional instability.
I found the six women who were portrayed in this film to be a lot more resourceful and optimistic than I feel my potential to be.
The film was shot in the early 1990s, so watching it a decade later is a bit strange, since I wonder how much LA has changed in the interim. I suspect that the huge amount of illegal immigration into that area makes it even more difficult to find cheap housing than was the case 10 years ago.
In the late 80s and early 90s there was also a lot more sympathy for homeless people than there appears to be now, and there are probably less municipal/state/federal resources available now than there were back then. Now that the states are all running large deficits in their budgets, and the cost of housing has skyrocketed, it's probably a dreary prospect to be tossed out of the "safe" world.
Jodie Foster's narration was a bit underwhelming, but then that may have been appropriate, since the focus should remain on the subjects of the documentary.
This film shared the same problem with the whole concept behind most documentaries, namely: why do the documentarians not provide assistance to their subjects? Or do they have an obligation simply to portray what they observe without interfering?
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling, if you're a twentysomething suburbanite April 9, 2004
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This is the type of film that haunts me, that reminds me to figure out what the heck I'm doing with my life to promote fair policies and foster cooperation in my community. Unlike more recent and flashier "social issue" documentaries, this film, and the stories of these working homeless women, play gently and firmly on your conscience. I remember these characters -- I'll remember them for a long time. Foster's narration is note-perfect.
I'm thankful for films like these. The trick, then, is for me, for us, to turn it into to some form of support.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Update on the U-Haul lady, Lou.... May 19, 2008
By Ashley
....who took her own life in 1992, shortly after filming. I don't know about the other women, but apparently Lou couldn't take it anymore. I was rooting for her the whole time, since she was able-bodied, younger, and without children or a man. Minimum wage doesn't cut it and something should be done to assure that everyone has a decent, yet humble, home. There is no need for people to live in mansions and be wasteful when there are people like Lou living in U-Hauls and Marie parking her car in a cemetery.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a thought provoking documentary August 17, 2010
It Was a Wonderful Life had quite an effect on me--I was troubled by what had happened to these "hidden homeless" women who live out of their cars and who dress well enough that if I saw them walking down the street I never would have guessed that they were homeless. The documentary flows at a good pace; I was never bored although I do agree with reviewers who note that it's certainly not the most polished documentary I've ever seen. Honestly, I was unaware of the extent of this problem; the film raised my awareness of this issue and if it was a problem then I can just imagine the extent of the problem in today's "Great Recession!"

We meet several women who actually lead quite a comfortable life--or at least a solidly middle class existence before they ran out of money because of a medical illness that apparently was not covered by insurance (or perhaps they lacked health insurance, they film doesn't go into this), bad investments or deadbeat dads/ex-husbands who simply refused to make their child support payments. These women are remarkably talented artists, teachers, realtors and more and they are every bit as well educated as the filmmakers say that they are; one of them is quite a chanteuse and it pained me greatly to see how she ended up homeless with her hopes and chances for subsidized "Section 8" housing dwindled, leaving her in a state of despair and deep depression.

We also learn how these women rarely seek out financial support such as food stamps and public assistance--I assume this is out of pride and a strong determination to make their own way. When interviewed, these women didn't think that they were desperate enough to apply for welfare.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Documentary May 9, 2007
Although this documentary was done fifteen years ago, I rented it because of the title. I find it interesting to know how women do end up homeless. I remember Sixty Minutes doing a segment on homeless women when I was in high school. I have to say that these women are more resourceful than a woman who has a job and a home.
It's a shame that our legal system can barely do anything to help these women to get back on their feet. Yet, they can respond quickly to high-profile cases that are sometimes too outrageous or frivilous. These were women who had good, if not great lives. They were married with children. Some of them were working to make ends meets and not having to worry about tomorrow. Then something happened.
Marital discord, medical injury, loss of employment turned their world upside down. I felt sorry for these women because they were struggling to stay afloat when things took a turn for the worse. Some of them wouldn't turn to their families or friends for assistance; and one didn't have anyone to turn to for assistance.
The thought of what these women are going through is a reflection of what can happen to me and several other women. As much as I whined and complained about not having a place of my own and having to struggle financially, there is always a ray of sunshine.
The only thing we as women need to do is to acknowledge our presence and look out for our well-being. And help each other.
I wonder if there was ever any thought to follow-up on this documentary. One committed suicide and the other was never heard from again. It would be interesting to know what they have been doing since this documentary was made.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad reality of Life today
Sad reality of life today, This is a excellent documentary on homeless women but it applies to men as well. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jerry G
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Documentary
These women seems so nice and normal, but they are all living a very sad life. It's very depressing seeing them living like that. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ida
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard To Look At
Some homeless women obviously suffer from mental illness but the two I felt the most sympathy toward had multiple kids with zero support. Read more
Published 21 months ago by mr. contrarian
3.0 out of 5 stars I Wrote the Book From Which This Doc Was Made:
After publishing my book "Shadow Women: Homeless Women's Survival Stories" (Sheed & Ward, 1990), I had many offers from producers, directors, and stars for a movie contract. Read more
Published on April 18, 2012 by Brooke
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable and still current - all these years later
It was Jodie Foster's name (as narrator) that drew me to watch this. But it was the homeless women profiled who made this film unforgettable. Read more
Published on March 2, 2012 by Big Reader
3.0 out of 5 stars good doc
A Good doc....add to your JF collection. Music was a disappiontment, as it was merely instumental background.
Published on August 23, 2010 by marisue
2.0 out of 5 stars This isn't you...
Though relevant and very heartbreaking, i'd like you keep in mind that these women are flawed in some crucial way. Read more
Published on January 22, 2010 by Miss Priss
2.0 out of 5 stars Not really that interesting
A documentary about homeless women in america. It could have been done in half the time but still it highlights the plight of the homeless that a lot of us tend to ignore. Read more
Published on October 9, 2008 by Paul Hogan
4.0 out of 5 stars It Was a Wonderful Life
I like Jodie Foster and I happened to find this movie. It turned out to be so good. This movie is a documentary about hidden homeless women. Those could be any one of us. Read more
Published on April 11, 2005 by Judy FT.
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