Tupperware (2004)

Week of February 2, 2006

Airtight plastic bowls and the women who love them

Tupperware (2004)

The hourlong Tupperware proves that the creative minds behind PBS' An American Experience are good enough to take a lump of coal and turn it into a diamond. In lesser hands, Tupperware, the story of airtight plastic bowls and the women who love them, would be excruciating. Here it's nothing short of riveting. What many nonfiction filmmakers lose sight of is that, just as in good fiction, character development is king. Errol Morris gets this, Steve James gets this, and PBS' Laurie Kahn-Leavitt gets this (Michael Moore and the makers of the woeful St. Louis World's Fair documentary most assuredly don't). The most compelling character in Tupperware is a now-dead woman named Brownie Wise, who is plucked from a middle-class Detroit household to be the face of Earl Tupper's burgeoning lettuce-preservation empire. With the gorgeous and charismatic Wise at the helm, Tupperware attracts a cultlike following and becomes a watershed moment for workplace feminism, as husbands are forced to quit their jobs and assist wives who are promoted from neighborhood saleswomen to regional distributor posts.

What keeps Tupperware fresh is the cadre of ex-employees Kahn-Leavitt has tracked down for on-camera interviews. Through their eyes, the Tupperware phenomenon is elevated from a mere stroke of business genius to a liberating movement for women who felt trapped in the kitchen.

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

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