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With: Reno
Written by: Reno
Directed by: Nancy Savoca
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 75
Date: 09/09/2002

Reno: Rebel Without a Pause (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Reno' Comes Clean-o

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Even if you're not familiar with performance artist Reno, it won't take long to get to know her in the new movie, Reno: Rebel Without a Pause. She's a Jewish lesbian New Yorker who -- to put it lightly -- doesn't make a habit of hiding her feelings. And when those feelings center around something as strong as 9/11 and the resulting confusion, politeness and small talk simply go out the window. Reno performed this 70-minute one-woman show both here and in New York before acclaimed director Nancy Savoca (Dogfight, Household Saints) captured it on digital video in mid-December, 2001. Savoca herself is known for exploring dark sides and not holding anything back, and she does justice to this powerful show.

As Rebel Without a Pause begins, Reno recounts her experiences on that fateful morning, beginning the show with a recorded answering machine message. This is the film's most difficult passage, since the tragedy happened so recently and most people are apt to have their own specific memories still fresh in their minds. But when Reno gets going on America's reaction to the attacks, the place lights up. She plays a snippet of Celine Dion's "God Bless America." After cracking that Dion is Canadian, Reno wonders where the power of that song lies -- why it gets us all choked up. That leads to an examination of Americans' behavior following the attack, from the almost mandatory patriotism and flag-buying to G.W. Bush's fumblings. "President?" she asks. "You mean that guy who was appointed by his brother?"

She also attacks the rampant racism that gushed up -- intolerance toward Arab-Americans or anyone who looked remotely Arabic. She describes an incident in which she called 911 to report a man with a sinister bumper sticker, calling on Americans to "hunt them down, rout them out, kill their children," etc.

While she talks, Reno paces and gestures madly; her physicality matches her no-hold-barred attitude. With her frizzy hair and her gigantic, untucked shirt, she's like a crazy aunt at a family get-together, or like a cross between Divine and Queen Latifah. A chair rests on the stage, but she completely ignores it; she has too much energy. (She also lets her little dog run loose during her performance.) Savoca does a brilliant job of framing, allowing Reno to drift in and out of frame at certain moments, and using jump cuts to underline some of her more poignant points. It goes without saying that Reno is awfully brave to go on stage with this stuff just a few months after the attacks. The atmosphere at the time was, and still is to some extent, "either you're with us or you're insignificant." There's fearless and then there's that special brand of fearless: not caring what people think. Even though the film runs a brief 71 minutes -- finishing off with footage of Reno talking with New Yorkers on the street in the aftermath �- Reno exhibits enough gusto to make you a fan.

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