Title: Double Dare
Written By: Amanda Micheli
Publication Info: Runaway Films 2004
So I just watched the documentary Double Dare, and I raved about it so much on Twitter that SB Sarah asked if I would review it, to which I replied, “Yes, I will, because it’s the best thing ever and I have to tell everyone all about it right now!”
Double Dare is a documentary about stuntwomen in Hollywood. It follows the paths of stuntwomen Jeannie Epper and Zoë Bell over a three year period and along the way it talks about women's struggles in the stunt industry – many of which parallel the struggles of women in general. At the time the story begins, Zoë has been working as Lucy Lawless’s stunt double on Xena: Warrior Princess. “That’s my acting double”, she tells us, speaking of Lucy Lawless. Zoë is adorable. There’s some great stuff about working on Xena in this opening section. Alas, Xena is about to come to a close, which leaves Zoë unemployed. Most of the film that follows Zoë involves her going to Hollywood (Xena filmed in New Zealand, where Zoë is from) to try to find work as a stuntwoman.
Meanwhile, we also follow the story of veteran stuntwoman Jeannie Epper, who is best known for being Lynda Carter’s double on Wonder Woman. I took at look at Jeannie’s filmography and basically if you’ve ever seen a movie, Jeannie was probably in it. The woman keeps busy. Anyway, at the time Double Dare filmed, Jeannie was in her sixties and having a tough time getting jobs. Of all the terrifying things I saw in the movie, nothing made my blood run as cold as the sight of Jeannie, day after day after day, making call after call in search of a job. With each call, she shrugs off rejection or delay and moves right to the next one. As Jeannie says, “It’s easier to do the job than it is to get the job”.
This movie had fascinating things to say about stunt work and the entertainment industry. This is a must-see documentary for anyone with an interest in the making of movies and TV shows.
But beyond the content specific to doing stunts, it’s also a fascinating look at different generations of women struggling with things that anyone can relate to. Both women struggle to balance work and family. Zoë has a hard time finding time to be with her family and friends and is hesitant about leaving them all to go to the US. Jeannie had her first baby at the age of sixteen and talks about how exhausted she was working thirteen-hour days and then trying to raise her family. The women worry about career-threatening injuries and limitations. Jeannie’s daughter, Eurlyne, has surgery to repair neck damage from a high fall, and struggles during her recovery with trying to figure out how much stunt work she can still do. Jeannie worries about how long she’ll be able to keep working and whether she’ll be able to get jobs as a stunt coordinator – a position that almost always goes to men.
All the women face high levels of pressure to be thin enough to double skinny Hollywood stars while being strong enough to do the stunts. There’s a ton of stuff in this about body image. Jeannie considers liposuction and counsels Zoë to lie about her weight on an application.
If I have any criticism, it’s that the film drags a little in the middle. In real life, making calls and going to meetings and working out at the gym is not very exciting, and it turns out that watching people make calls, attend meetings, and work out isn’t super-exciting either. I also wondered if maybe the film glossed over some of the rockier times in Jeannie’s life.
There are various hints at a troubled past but nothing is spelled out. I wondered about her and Eurlyne and whether they had always been close or whether things had been hard for Eurlyne, who mentions that living up to her mom’s reputation is “difficult”.
Basically what you have here are three women in different stages of life, and the extreme nature of their work highlights their stresses. Jeannie has to deal with fear of getting older and of being judged as less capable and marketable than younger women. Eurlyne, who is on the young side of middle age, is juggling her kids and an injury and trying to figure out how much work she can realistically do and still keep herself healthy. Zoë is anxious about being more adult, especially about moving far away from her family. “I always thought being an adult would be boring,” she says.
This movie was exhilarating and inspiring and sometimes sad and often hilarious and interesting. I can’t begin to describe how funny these women are! Jeannie and Zoë both approach life with a goal that they refuse to give up on, and they work relentlessly hard to achieve their goals. I don’t actually plan to do any high falls in my own life but I felt much more inspired and focused about pursing my own dreams after I watched this, and I had a deep appreciation for the generations of women who refused to be stopped by discrimination or the unique challenges of having to do stunt work in high heels.