Thelma and Louise was more than a riveting movie; it hit the cultural zeitgeist when it was released in 1991 and profoundly impacted its core audience — women. One of them, Jennifer Townsend, was so stirred by screenwriter Callie Khouri’s story about friends Thelma, played by Geena Davis, and Louise (Susan Sarandon) who flee across the heartland in a Thunderbird after Louise kills a man outside a bar who is sexually assaulting Thelma. The ensuing crime spree — a desperate flight for survival; a nothing-to-lose, f-you to the patriarchy — was so novel and daring at the time that it caused Townsend, after two or three early viewings, to wonder how others were responding to the film. In that quaint, pre-Internet era, she took out ads seeking responses to a mailed questionnaire about the film.
For this documentary, her first film, Townsend, spry and sharp at 80, revisits the questionnaires she received back then from mostly women but also some men from all over the country. She travels to interview many of these commentators about their initial responses to the film and the impact it had on their lives in 1991, and its legacy. Cut with generous film clips that underscore themes and moments that resonated with these viewers, Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise is a reminder of just how radical, how groundbreaking, how powerful the film was in 1991 and why it’s now revered as a classic. In the #MeToo era, it’s eye-opening and sobering to hear the interviewees discuss their personal responses to the film’s depiction of assault and revenge and whether the controversy and awareness that the film provoked has had any lasting impact on society or the movie industry.