This documentary needed to be done, I just wish someone else had done it. Shouldn’t we have an examination on film of the first woman ever to share a spot on the presidential ticket? It’s a historic event and a time capsule must. The most memorable line in it says something about “in a hundred years the most important woman in U.S. political history will be the first female president…the 2nd will be Geraldine Ferraro”. That’s potent stuff. Unfortunately, “Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way” was directed by the late Ferraro’s daughter, Donna Zaccaro. And that fact creates a damaging dichotomy. On the one hand, it did afford Ms. Zaccaro an unyielding amount of access to sit-down interviews with Ms. Ferraro when she was still with us(Geraldine passed in 2011), and her longtime husband John Zaccaro…Donna’s dad. On the other, we have the pungent stink of the mossier stones being left unturned…and it almost derails the entire enterprise. Almost.
It’s a great story, though. An upstate N. Y. Catholic girl, raised by hard-working Italian immigrants, eventually heads to law school and passes the bar. She marries and has children, staying home with them for a decade in honor to her husband’s wishes. Getting around to starting a career in the 1970’s, work takes her to the Queens County prosecutor’s office, and soon becoming a multi-term Democratic congresswoman, and then getting tapped to become Walter Mondale’s vice-presidential running mate just shy of her 49th birthday. Of course, that ended in a losing effort(and a resounding effort, at that)to the re-elected Reagan/Bush team in 1984, but historically it matters not. Gerry Ferraro will always be the first, and neither pecuniary scandal nor demoralizing defeat can ever take that away. And watching that journey of a little 1930’s girl with Shirley Temple curls, straight through late-life doctor’s office footage of Geraldine dealing with her cancer diagnosis—hey, it’s a strong, visceral dose of a woman’s life. It’s the wrong kind of medicine though, for a documentary that should be striving for some more bite.
Like, what about those accusations of financial mis-dealings regarding Ferraro’s husband(and the director’s daddy), John Zaccaro? It’s mentioned, then barely explained, and quickly dismissed. Was it honestly “much ado about nothing”, as the film asserts late into its 86-minute running time? Possibly—but you’ll never feel entirely certain. Hey, I doubt any important figure in public life is completely squeaky clean—but this documentary is more love letter than probing expose. Which doesn’t quite make it bad—just docile and middlebrow. I’m happy that I got to know this woman better. I barely paid attention to it while it was happening in 1984, when I was on my way to turning 19-years-old(just days before the Presidential election). It was interesting to focus on it now, but I’d like to seek out a well-researched book, that goes after more of the nitty-gritty. But it’s a thoughtful and loving overview, this “Paving the Way”. And I guess the late Ms. Ferraro deserved that much—at the very least. Grade: B-