Tears, Gasps & Laughter: All The Sundance Reactions To The New Hillary Clinton Documentary

Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images.
Hulu's new four-part docuseries Hillary offers a behind-the-scenes look at a Hillary Clinton who is self-reflective, sarcastic, and unafraid to tell us how she really feels now that the stakes aren't so high. Among the flurry of Sundance Film Festival opening-weekend premieres, the nearly five-hour Saturday screening was a coveted ticket.
Instead of creating a more pared-down campaign storytelling piece, director Nanette Burstein used her work to expand the public’s knowledge beyond the polarizing 2016 election with larger cultural commentary around feminism, public scrutiny, and justice. Hillary also attempts to allow the audience the level of intimacy many crave from the Clinton family, showcasing the emotional transparency Clinton was criticized for not exhibiting throughout her career. We find out through flashbacks and footage from 35 hours of interviewing that emotional compartmentalization was a key quality that brought Secretary Clinton to the brink of leading our country. 
The audience reactions we observed said volumes. There were comedic moments that elicited a welcome laugh-out-loud release amid the dense, non-linear storytelling that we all knew ended unfavorably for Burstein’s subject. Other scenes warranted audible gasps, sighs, and even tears from the packed house.
Ahead, the top 10 audience-reaction moments during the Sundance premiere of Hillary

Ice-Breaking Laughs

Shortly after the opening sequence, Clinton says that on her gravestone she would like written, “She’s neither as good nor as bad as some people say about her.” The audience chuckled while I mentally noted, Oh okay, this Hillary is about to get a little self-aware with us here.

Claps For Civil Rights

How could you go to church on Sunday and hate people on Monday?
Clinton recalls thinking while watching the civil rights revolution unfold and being inspired to fight systematic oppression by Dr. Martin Luther King. She follows, “As fraught as times are right now, you just felt like the end of the world was around the corner in 1969.” The audience let out a brief but strong clap, nodding to the racial injustice we’re still fighting in today’s social climate.

Funny Foreshadowing

“I realized there would never be a dull moment, and that proved to be true!” Hillary comments on why she finally decided to marry former President Bill Clinton, years after telling him his first marriage proposal “wasn’t a very good sales pitch.” This got a lot of laughs.

MAGA Before The Red-Cap Era

A lone “Woot!” came from the back when Hillary told Bill Clinton, “If you’re going to be bullied out of the race you have no business being President,” after a Republican political figure threatened his reputation during his 1992 election. Scoffs followed when footage showed Bill Clinton making a speech saying he will “Make America great again.” I heard someone behind me mumble, “Wow. What a twist of fate.”

“Who Would Vote For A Pu**y Woman Like Me?!”

This was Hillary’s reaction when Bill Clinton, friends, and political figures encouraged her to run for U.S. Senate, showing just how real imposter syndrome can be. She later realizes that maybe she was "afraid to do it" and then challenges herself to say “I, instead of ‘we’ or 'he.'” The audience laughed, but there was also a note of recognition.

Ballsy Trump Talk

“Most of what Donald Trump does is for the same reason why a dog licks his balls — basically, because he knows he can,” Clinton advisor Philippe Reines claims to a boisterous audience laugh. Footage shows Reines immersing himself in playing Trump during debate prep, emulating every last hand gesture and aggressive interruption.

“I’m The Most Investigated Innocent Person In America.”

Clinton says this to audience applause while the narrative weaves through "but her emails" and Benghazi investigations that essentially lead to nothing but shift the public's perception in a major way. One can’t help but feel empathy while watching Clinton's frustration as numbers plunge days before the election, when then-FBI Director James Comey reopens an investigation into her private email server. “Even when something is disproved, people remember that the allegation was made,” she laments. 

A Surprise Appearance

One of the loudest applause moments came as (spoiler alert?!) an unexpected interview subject appeared in the form of 44th President Barack Obama. “Me asking Hillary to be my Secretary of State was a no-brainer for me,” he says, despite a contentious 2008 primary election in which he defeated her. “Throughout our campaign, I never wavered that she was  smart, sophisticated, and cared deeply about the issues that I cared about.” 

“You’ve got to go tell your daughter.”

Bill Clinton, with tear-filled eyes, recalls his wife saying this to him after he came clean about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The sequence was perhaps the most emotionally charged of the entire series, revealing deep regret and pain from the former president. By choosing to reveal the moment in the docuseries, the Clintons have taken control of the narrative while showing the audience an intimate moment. When Burstein asks why he did it, Clinton doesn't have a more profound answer than impulsive escapism and stress release, noting that “no one thinks” about consequences in the moment. Later, he says he wishes he could have helped Lewinsky as he watched her struggle to try and live a “normal” life throughout the years. Here, we observed uncomfortable winces throughout the audience. On the subject of revealing her own feelings to the press, Secretary Clinton says, “I am a private person. The crushing intensity of wall-to-wall coverage, the expectation that you share your innermost feelings with people... Is there anything left after you’ve shared all of it?”

Found Footage Of Effigy-Burning

Gasps echoed throughout the theater when a clip comes on showing an effigy of Secretary Clinton being burned. We revisited that scene during the screening’s Q&A portion with Clinton. “Particularly when I took on the work of healthcare reform, trying to get us to universal, affordable healthcare, I was being burned in effigy, which I had forgotten,” she said. “But [Burstein] found footage of it, which says more about the times and the expectations about what women and certainly first ladies should or shouldn’t do.” The fact that a moment like this is a forgotten footnote in Hillary Clinton's roller coaster life is a testament to her perseverance through public backlash.
Hillary will begin streaming on Hulu starting on March 6, 2020.
Watch the trailer:

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