Liz Garbus sets out to show there’s more to Gloria Vanderbilt than inherited riches and status-seeking designer jeans in Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper, taking the helm of a project Cooper, Vanderbilt’s son, began years ago. Focused wholly on her personal life and what Cooper describes as an ever-present sense of loss, the film offers interviews only with her, two of her sons, and (briefly) the college girlfriend of a third. Vanderbilt comes off as good-humored and likeable, and we certainly understand Cooper’s reasons for wanting this document to exist. But the movie does little to convince us that, eight decades after a battle for custody over the 10-year-old Gloria rated as “the trial of the century” among socialite-watchers and after the publication of several memoirs, America should still be hungry for details of her life. The audience for the doc’s April 9 bow on HBO will consist, one suspects, mostly of Cooper fans.
Though many will roll their eyes at Cooper’s admiration of an outrageously privileged woman who “has had to figure out how to forge a life,” the doc does convey how emotionally bereft the childhood of the “poor little rich girl” was. Immediately after her birth, her parents left without her for a six-month vacation; her father died before she was two; after that, her mother (who was still a teen when she had Gloria) seemed to treat her daughter as a piggy bank, living the high life in Paris off her trust fund while Gloria bonded with her nanny. Then there was that custody trial, leaving her in the care of an aunt (Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the museum) who cared more for her welfare but couldn’t connect with her emotionally.
Given all this, a sympathetic viewer may excuse the stupidity of Gloria’s early years on her own in California. She was on her second marriage by 20, wedding a man (famed conductor Leopold Stokowski) more than three times her age. That lasted longer than one might expect, and produced two sons — custody of whom she won when she decided to leave him. The film prefers to talk of her four marriages and skip past her affairs, but can’t resist including Vanderbilt’s tossed-off “… that’s when I met Sinatra.”
“Regrets — I’ve had a few,” Ol‘ Blue Eyes sang, and eventually Vanderbilt alludes to having some of her own that she can’t write off to youthful ignorance. That nanny she thought of as her real mother? Vanderbilt “kind of lost” her, and wasn’t around for her death in the care of Catholic Charities. But she did find the kind of close-knit family she never had when she married Cooper’s father, Wyatt Emory Cooper — having two sons and, it seems, a great deal of happiness with him. Sadly, he died when Anderson was 10; a decade later, Anderson’s brother Carter leapt to his death from the terrace of the family’s home.
These episodes of love and loss leave nearly no space for talk of the businesses that made Vanderbilt famous to teens in the ‘70s, but Cooper and Garbus do devote plenty of attention to the artwork she has quietly created since her high-school years. Unsurprisingly, the film mines these works for autobiographical content and their longing for a sense of home.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres)
Production company: HBO Documentary Films
Director-producer: Liz Garbus
Executive producers: Anderson Cooper, Sheila Nevins
Director of photography: Tom Hurwitz
Editor: Karen K.H. Sim
Composer: Thomas Rutishauser
Not rated, 107 minutes