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SXSW Review: “She Looks Like Me”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 12th, 2024

SHE LOOKS LIKE ME director Torquil Jones

She Looks Like Me (Torquil Jones, 2024) 5 out of 5 stars

Jennifer (or Jen) Bricker was raised in a loving family, with three older brothers, by parents who taught her that there was nothing she couldn’t do. Taking this lesson to heart, she has pursued her dreams and is now an acrobat and aerial dancer. This may surprise some people, given that Jen was born without legs. She was also abandoned at birth by her biological parents. In so many ways, this appears to have been a blessing in open disguise, given the life she has led thanks to the incredibly supportive environment the Brickers provided.

Dominique Moceanu is a gymnast who was once America’s great hope for a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when she was all of 14. And in fact her performance at that event did indeed help lead the women’s team to their first-ever gold medal, even if she, herself, just missed winning an individual honor. Now a coach, she has worked hard to change the sport, speaking out about the abusive tactics of trainers Béla and Márta Károlyi, as well as the sexual assaults perpetrated by team doctor Larry Nassar.

l-r: Dominique Moceanu and Jennifer Bricker as children in SHE LOOKS LIKE ME

What, you may ask, do these two extraordinary women have in common? If you have read Dominique’s 2012 memoir Off Balance, you already know, but for the rest of us, there is She Looks Like Me, the deeply affecting new documentary from director Torquil Jones (Villeneuve Pironi). In it, he follows the parallel and intersecting lives of Jen and Dominique, bringing us on a journey filled with emotional highs and lows. The cinematic grandeur is more than matched by the awe-inspiring narrative truths within.

Throughout her childhood, Jen admired Dominique from afar, drawn to her in part because they looked a lot alike, and because Jen was naturally athletic, as well. Jones cuts back and forth between their two childhoods, showing Dominique’s increasingly strong performances and Jen’s secondary-school competitive tumbling (also impressive). One day, when 11-year-old Jen asks her mother where she came from, she is surprised to discover that the names of her birth parents were not blacked out on the adoption papers (as they were supposed to have been). And so Sharon, who will not lie to her daughter, reveals the truth: Jen and Dominique are sisters.

l-r: Torquil Jones, Jen Bricker, and Dominique Moceanu at SXSW 2024 @Christopher Llewellyn Reed

Imagine if you will what this unexpected knowledge might do to Jen, and then, years later, to Dominique when the two finally connect. The movie fills in those spaces with a wealth of detail, thanks to interviews with the two protagonists, all the supporting players in their lives, and many more. There is a wealth of archival material, as well, on both sides, and the sum total of it all creates fully rounded portraits of everyone involved. Even of Dumitru (or Dimitry) and Camelia Moceanu, who gave up Jen in the hospital.

This is a documentary that covers a plethora of topics yet manages to simultaneously focus on the relationships at the center. There is a lot of hope and positivity existing alongside trauma, and ultimately forgiveness where it is due. In She Looks Like Me, the magnificent possibilities of the human condition abound, for the wages of love are beautiful to behold.

l-r: Jen Bricker and Dominique Moceanu at SXSW 2024 @Christopher Llewellyn Reed

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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