Menopause: The Life Passage No One Wants to Talk About
DIRECTED BY SCOTT JACOBS/2016
STREET DATE: AUGUST 29, 2017/KINO LORBER
If you can make it through the first ten minutes of Love, Sweat & Tears, the rest of the documentary will be easy sledding. The film opens with a montage of statements that Dr. Pamela Dee Guadry (she prefers “Dr. Dee”) says she hears from her menopausal patients and their families. It’s a terrifying picture of physical pain, loss of sex drive, strained marriages, near homicidal mood swings, and (of course) hot flashes. As a middle aged but still pre-menopausal women, I was almost driven to a panic attack by that opening. But it’s oddly incongruous with the rest of Love, Sweat & Tears, Dr. Dee’s documentary on her quest to “save the menopausal vaginas of America.”
Maybe we should pause right here and say that if you are troubled by the word “menopause” or “vagina”, or discussions of vaginal dryness, lubricants, and vibrators – this may not be the film for you. But haven’t we all seen enough commercial devoted to erectile dysfunction to be able to talk about older women’s sexual health without too many “Ewws”? I’m invoking my own fairness doctrine here, and asking everyone to stop squirming and give women their due. Every young women will deal with these issues eventually, as will every man who is intimate with a menopausal woman. I’m not running the numbers, but that seems like a lot of us. And Dr. Dee is certainly right in pointing out that we are woefully undereducated on menopause. I realized while watching Love, Sweat & Tears that even at my age – 52 – I’ve never had a doctor ask me what I’m experiencing or tell me what to expect. What’s up with that?
After the scary opening, there is one more small hurdle to get over in this documentary: a dramatic reenactment of what prompted Dr. Dee to become an OB-GYN. It’s a little hamfisted, but also a jarring reminder of the kind of misogynistic nonsense many women experience in healthcare.
The rest of the Love, Sweat & Tears follows a well worn path for inspiring, educational docs. Dr. Dee travels the country interviewing various experts and celebrities – and being interviewed by them – as she tries to paint an upbeat picture of living la vida menopausal. And it kind of works! The documentary relies heavily on comedians to soften the bad news – about those crazy mood swings, and the hot flashes, and about the difficulties of being a low hormone woman in world of older men on ED medications. It hadn’t occurred to me before that the natural slowing of sex drive and sexual performance that most couple experience together as they age is disrupted when the party of the second part is taking little blue pills. In some partnerships, chaos ensues.
Dr. Dee interviews several faith leaders, and even a woman who sells sex toys to Christians (Covenant Spice: Intimacy Products for Christian Couples). Sex toys and various aids and exercisers get heavy coverage in Love, Sweat & Tears, with the movie seeming uncomfortably like a paid advertisement a few times. I do appreciate the film’s emphasis not simply on older women’s physical health, but also on their sexual and relational wellness, though.
The premier celebrity in Love, Sweat & Tears is Joan Rivers, in her last screen appearance. She is classic Joan – funny, bawdy, self-deprecating, and candid. It’s a surprising, but somehow fitting, footnote to her career.