GABBY GIFFORDS WON’T BACK DOWN – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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There couldn’t be a timelier documentary these days than Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, who previously were responsible such female-forward fare with their 2018 Ruth Bader Ginsberg doc RBG, which was Oscar-nominated. They also served up Julia, which focused on the life of the French chef Julia Child. They also did My Name is Pauli Murray, who, 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, boldly fought for social justice. The non-binary Black lawyer, activist, poet, and priest who influenced both Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall, which both came out in 2021.

Given that Giffords was bestowed with a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work promoting gun safety measures by President Biden this past week, the doc focuses on the horrible day when she did a meet-and-greet with her constituents at a suburban Safeway super market in Arizona on January 8, 2011. Instead, chaos reigned. She was shot in her head and suffered a near-fatal head injury by a male sniper while six others at the event were also killed, including a 9-year-old girl. The doc zeroes in on her healing process, captured by her devoted spaceman husband as she was determined to re-learn how to speak once more.

A rising political star at the time, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in the U.S. Congress. This gutsy gal survived an assassination attempt and would become a co-founder of, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing gun violence. The doc zeroes in on her grueling healing process, with her husband, Mark Kelly, the former Space Shuttle Commander — who is currently a junior U.S. senator from Arizona – by her side. We witness as Giffords also struggles with afacisia, the loss of the ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage. She must also wear a special cap to protect what is left of her skull.

What is interesting is that early in her recovery she found easier to sing her words than speak. In fact, West and Cohen take advantage of her melodic use of music in the background. Such as when they play David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in connection to her spaceman husband’s one-time profession as well as A-ha’s “Take on Me!” At one point, Gabby even plays a French horn.

During the medal ceremony, Biden introduced Giffords as “one of the most courageous people I have ever known,” adding “She’s the embodiment of a single signature American trait: Never, ever give up.” That is a pretty good summation of the Democrat’s fortitude in the face of tragedy. But, someone in the documentary says that Biden was “Gabbinized” by Giffords.

The last scene in the movie shows Giffords riding a specially designed bike alongside her husband as she belts out John Denver’s song “Take Me Home, Country Road.” As West and Cohen told Deadline, Giffords “is the hardworking, dragon-slaying, 80’s hits-singing, recumbent bike-riding hero we all need right now. We can’t wait for audiences to fall in love with her as much as we have.”

EDITOR’S NOTE:Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for July 15, 2022.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.