In 2008, 39-year-old hedge fund consultant Dee Dee Ricks had enough disposable income to drop $400,000 at a charity auction just to sing on stage with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Ricks lived in a $14 million apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her two young sons, and says she couldn’t spend the money she was making fast enough.
“I also just found out I have cancer,” she says at the start of “The Education of Dee Dee Ricks,” a moving HBO documentary that chronicles her battle with Stage II breast cancer and growing indignation over inequities in the nation’s health-care system.
Ricks began videotaping herself so her boys would have something to remember her by, and she’s fearless in revealing the most intimate details of her struggles. Before undergoing a double mastectomy, she bares her breasts for the camera, commenting ruefully, “For years I hated them and wanted to change them. Wow, this is it.”
A month after surgery, the bills begin to arrive. Because her operation lasted longer than the time-limit covered by her insurance policy, Ricks owes $26,000 out of pocket. She can pay it, but wonders about those who can’t.
Visiting the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in Harlem, a cash-strapped clinic offering free medical care to uninsured women with breast cancer, Ricks vows to raise $2.5 million. She also meets Cynthia Dodson, a 43-year-old clinic patient whose breast cancer went undiagnosed until its late stages.
Scars, Side Effects
The two women form a strong bond, providing the documentary with a powerful case study in the separate, unequal paths of the nation’s ailing rich and poor.
“The Education,” directed by former network journalist Perri Peltz, follows both women through roughly a year of treatment, and hides no scar or side effect. When Ricks removes a scarf to unveil her newly bald head, her youngest boy strains a smile but mutters, “Put it back. Put it back.”
Her newfound ire at the injustices of the health-care system can seem a bit naive, but it’s hard not to share her outrage and heartbreak as the charming, optimistic Dodson pays the price for years of medical neglect.
“The Education of Dee Dee Ricks” airs Thursday on HBO at 8:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
‘The Rosie Show’
“You are so nice,” Roseanne Barr said recently on Rosie O’Donnell’s new weeknight talk show. “You are always saying such nice things.”
Indeed. “The Rosie Show” is O’Donnell in Queen of Nice mode. If some of us miss the high-wire tension that made her stint on “The View” so mesmerizing, the new program is easily the most watchable, likable show on Oprah Winfrey’s tepid OWN channel.
While the show is hardly the powerhouse Winfrey needs -- an average 320,000 nightly viewers watched “Rosie” on OWN during the week of its Oct. 10 debut -- O’Donnell is playing to her strengths. Fan chats and game-show routines showcase her rapport with a clearly smitten Chicago audience.
Her celebrity guests so far seem drawn from her personal greeting-card list, making for friendly, risk-free interviews. O’Donnell’s enthusiasm is appealing, but occasionally gets the best of her. She overpraised Lisa Kudrow’s NBC genealogy program “Who Do You Think You Are” as “documentary filmmaking at its best.”
O’Donnell’s flintier traits surface only fleetingly, just long enough to remind us what’s missing. She clearly wasn’t happy when a microphone glitch interrupted her talk with Barr, and her comic irritation with a snoozing audience member seemed only slightly exaggerated.
“The Rosie Show” could stand a bit more “View”-era O’Donnell. Edge can be a nice thing too.
“The Rosie Show” airs weeknights on OWN at 7 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)