‘Gutsy’ gives a fascinating look at Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s mother-daughter relationship
They try their hand at line dancing. They learn to fold tamales. They go bowling with Wanda Sykes.
It’s Hillary Clinton as we’ve never seen her. Chelsea too!
Their new Apple TV Plus docuseries « Gutsy » — all set to receive a warm reception in Toronto during the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend — is a thing with many flowers. Beyond the headlines, beyond the talking points, it’s a shaggy, meandering, open-ended thing with a 360° view of all the many ways courage reveals itself.
As they travel across America and beyond – did I mention they went to clown school in Paris, in one episode? that they hang out with Megan Thee Stallion, the rapper, in another? – the eight parts can also be interpreted as a series of GIFs just waiting to happen. Hillary packs her own suitcase, for example! Hillary goes rafting. The former first lady, senator and secretary of state donning a hazmat suit as she meets a beekeeper.
As moving as « Gutsy » really gets in parts (I cried watching Hillary talk to the mother of Heather Heyer, the young woman who lost her life in Charlottesville), it shines best in the way it leans into the mother-daughter-ness of it all.
Beautifully shot, the series clearly exists as an epilogue for Hillary (a capper after her presidential dreams shattered), while simultaneously giving us a whole new introduction to her more Mona Lisa-ish daughter. Delighted to meet you. As a Chelsea watcher, I found that most fascinating, I have to admit.
Quite a callback, of course, to when she first appeared under her father’s dramatic presidency – when ‘Chels’ was seared into the imagination as a schoolgirl with untamed curls and braces. During those formative years in Washington and later stops at Stanford and Oxford, she appeared largely in « wordless pantomime », as writer Todd Purdum once described it. And yet, whenever her parents needed her – whether as some sort of family glue or media lure – Chelsea was there.
Sometimes, literally holding her parents together, as the most famous Clinton-era photo—probably one of the most famous presidential photographs ever taken—shows all too well: the first daughter holding hands with a humiliated Bill and a mortified Hillary, following Monica Lewinsky’s Crescendo of Disorder. Chelsea walks between them as they walk towards a helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House.
« If we ever have a girl, we should name her Chelsea. » That’s how her story began, as Hillary self-mythologized in her 2003 memoir « Living History. » The newly married Clintons were in London, England over Christmas when they stumbled across the Chelsea neighborhood. Not only that, but while they were there they heard the song « Chelsea Morning », the Judy Collins version of Joni Mitchell’s famous ditty.
The whims of his existence began early, as has also been commemorated. Before their lives brought them to DC, Bill was running for re-election in Arkansas when he and his wife sat Chelsea down to have « the talk. » “We explained that in election campaigns, people even tell lies about her dad to win, and we wanted her to be ready for that,” Hillary said. « Like most parents, we had taught her that it was wrong to lie, and she struggled with that. »
Then they got into a role-playing game, in which Chelsea pretended to be Bill – wow! – and went on to explain why he/she should be elected. Bill, rising from his chair, pretended to be an opponent. « Bill said terrible things about himself, » Hillary wrote. Chelsea started crying. Chelsea’s parents played the fake attacks on her dad over and over again until Chelsea could listen without crying. She was six years old.
The singular weirdness of Chelsea’s life even followed her through to her own nuptials in 2010, a moment that thrust her into the biggest spotlight she’s seen after years of peek-a-boo. In the weeks leading up to her marriage to financier Marc Mezvinsky, a “new vocabulary” had emerged – as the Washington Post reported – defining a whole new pecking order. “In the vast concentric circles of Clintonian friendship,” the paper reported, only those in the know whispered, “I’ll see you after The Wedding.”
The wedding, in which Chelsea donned Vera Wang, had become a further metaphor for the special relationships between the three principals involved. (Chelsea’s future husband, in this way, only seemed like a small character in the show.) Likewise, when Chelsea announced her first pregnancy in 2014, she did so in a very specific way: during from a Clinton Foundation forum promoting girls’ empowerment.
For years, the Chelsea-ness of Chelsea has been wrapped up in the single-ness of being the only child. The culture – long steeped in ideas of solo offspring – calls these kids over-the-top, sometimes aloof. And while there are probably as many types of « only children » as there are children with siblings, it’s hard to argue with the idea that « only children » are unique repositories of life. parents’ love (and, sometimes, baggage). More so perhaps when you are the solo child of of them internationally renowned personalities.
As Chelsea herself mentions in the new series, not only did she have no siblings, but she didn’t even have any cousins in her generation. One of the reasons why she often looked like a little adult, and why we never had a rebellious phase. Still the Girl Scout.
This is something I detected even while watching « Gutsy ». While her mother has spent her life telegraphing and practicing empathy, here she is more cowardly than ever. Hillary is in her f—s phase zero. Chelsea, however – who has long played the role of cheerleader and enforcer – sometimes seems more distant. She probably can’t help it. This, after all, is the woman who still bears the scars of being mocked as a girl – on « Saturday Night Live », etc. – as she brings it up on the show by talking with a group of comedic women.
Being Chelsea doesn’t really suck. A job straight out of college working at blue chip consulting firm McKinsey & Company came with a reported starting salary of $120,000. According to a profile in Vogue a few years ago, she served on the board of seven organizations, including the School of American Ballet and Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp. We’re also talking about someone who, when she accompanied her mother to Italy in her youth, had the entire public section of Pompeii shut down just for them.
Not that she’s outdone for hard work. While remaining active with her family’s foundation, writing books and playing a more public role with her mother’s presidential campaign, the mother-of-two also earned a doctorate from Oxford in 2020.
As outsized as her life has been, however, « Gutsy » brings her relationship with her mother down to earth. I mean, there’s even an episode in which the two are in a car in Arkansas – sort of homecoming – and end up reigniting Hillary’s resistance to Chelsea getting her ears pierced when she was 16. . Relatable! And quite funny. Families go with family…right?
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