'Seeing Allred' shines light on Gloria Allred

Nobody will confuse "Seeing Allred" with a hard-hitting expose; rather, this Netflix documentary unabashedly celebrat...

Posted: Feb. 8, 2018 3:07 PM
Updated: Feb. 8, 2018 3:07 PM

Nobody will confuse "Seeing Allred" with a hard-hitting expose; rather, this Netflix documentary unabashedly celebrates publicity-savvy attorney/advocate Gloria Allred, shedding some interesting light on her career, even if it's all flattering.

The irony is that filmmakers Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman began their look at Allred's hard-charging brand of lawyering -- with its emphasis on media appearances and never meeting a bank of cameras she wouldn't rush to greet -- during the allegations against Bill Cosby in 2014.

Allred not only represented a number of the comedian's accusers but also lobbied to alter statute of limitations laws in connection with rape cases -- a campaign that resulted in California Gov. Jerry Brown signing the Justice for Victims Act in 2016.

As a consequence, the film essentially just tacks on material about the #MeToo movement that arose in the fall, with a bit more time devoted to Allred's clients who have leveled allegations against Donald Trump -- a one-two punch that has put a sort-of punctuation mark on her lifelong crusade.

"Seeing Allred" opens with a 1977 clip from Dinah Shore's show, in which Allred rises from the audience and identifies herself as an attorney, registering a point about feminism that leaves the host taken aback. It's emblematic of both the time and Allred's confrontational style, reinforcing assertions by friends and colleagues that the attorney's unadulterated focus is on serving her clients and advancing her causes, not winning any popularity contests.

"I live in a war zone," Allred says near the outset -- which somewhat clashes with the image of her gazing out at the ocean from her Malibu home -- adding that in terms of the way she prosecutes her battles on behalf of women, "Power only understands power."

"Seeing Allred" is at its best in roughly the first third of the film, which chronicles Allred's biography -- how she married young, went back to school to become a lawyer and stumbled into her career niche. One media appearance, basically, begat another, as evidenced by a rapid-fire montage of Allred addressing reporters or mixing it up as a guest on cable news.

Allred also discusses her personal experience with sexual assault, and is shown spending time with her daughter, Lisa Bloom, who has followed in mom's footsteps.

What's missing from the film, unfortunately, is a sense of balance -- anybody who might accuse Allred of public-relations grandstanding or second-guess her decisions. Yes, there are clips of people (including Trump, but also Jimmy Kimmel and "Saturday Night Live") criticizing or mocking her, and ample praise from notable figures, such as Gloria Steinem. But there's relatively little that qualifies as bringing critical third-party voices into the conversation.

Obviously, the intention here was to raise awareness of Allred's accomplishments -- including work beyond her high-profile or celebrity-driven cases -- and reveal more about the person behind the press conferences. Given the tide of news during the last several months, the issues raised couldn't be timelier.

Still, as the documentary makes clear, Allred is tough enough to shrug off the occasional brush-back pitch. That makes it something of a shame that "Seeing Allred" opted to strictly toss her softballs.

"Seeing Allred" premieres Feb. 9 on Netflix.

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