Reel Corner - February 2023

Lessons in Chemistry, Women & Empowerment

February 2023 Issue
Reel Corner by Donne Paine

Lessons in Chemistry, Women & Empowerment

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
A NYT Bestselling novel and soon to be Apple TV Series

Starring: Brie Larson, Lewis Pullman, Aja Naomi King,
Stephanie Koenig, Kevin Sussman

Set in the early 1960s, Lessons in Chemistry follows Elizabeth Zott, whose dream of being a scientist is put on hold in a society deeming women belong in the domestic sphere, not the professional one. When Elizabeth finds herself pregnant, alone and fired from her lab, she musters the ingenuity only a single mother has. She accepts a job as a host on a TV cooking show, and sets out to teach a nation of overlooked housewives—and the men who are suddenly listening—a lot more than recipes, while craving a return to her true love: Science.

Elizabeth Zott does not have moxie; she has courage. She is not a “girl boss” or a “lady chemist”; she’s a groundbreaker. Not long after Zott converts her kitchen into a lab equipped with beakers, pipettes, and a centrifuge, she gets hoodwinked into hosting a staid television cooking show called “Supper at Six.” But she isn’t going to smile and read the cue cards. Zott ad libs her way into a role that suits her, treating the creation of a stew or a casserole as a grand experiment to be undertaken with utmost seriousness. Think molecular gastronomy in an era when canned soup reigned supreme. Baked into each episode is a healthy serving of empowerment, with none of the frill we have come to associate with that term.

In addition to her serious look into the frustrations of a generation of women, author Bonnie Garmus adds plenty of lighthearted fun. There’s a mystery involving her famous scientist boyfriend’s family and a look at the politics and dysfunction of the local television station. There’s also Zott’s love affair with rowing and her unconventional approach to parenthood and her deep connection to her dog named Six-Thirty.

Still, beyond the entertaining subplots and witty dialogue is the hard truth that in 1961, a smart, ambitious woman had limited options. We see how a scientist relegated to the kitchen found a way to pursue a watered-down version of her own dream. We see how two women working in the same lab had no choice but to turn on each other. We then meet Zott’s friend and neighbor, Harriet, who is a lifesaver for much needed childcare.

In 1985, when women were restricted from joining service organizations like Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis and Lions Club, my father, a Rotarian, asked if I could produce a program debating the admittance of women. Fast forward to 2009 when my sister, Diane Fornari, was elected the first woman president of the Hilton Head VanLandingham Rotary Club. I think my father was on to something!

The fictional example of Zott in Lessons in Chemistry and real life examples above are a reminder of how far women have come, but also how far we still have to go. This series (and novel) will make you wonder about all the real-life women born ahead of their time—women who were sidelined, ignored and worse because they weren’t as resourceful, determined and lucky as Elizabeth Zott.

Recently the Reel Corner gathered a few women friends in their 60s and 70s (a pharmacist, an author, a retired hospital executive, a successful fund raiser and a community activist) and asked where they found their empowerment. Responses were varied: a grandmother; their parents; old movies with strong female roles; a supportive teacher; a supervisor.

How about you?
Who gave you the encouragement to follow your dreams,
be courageous and not give up?

Many thanks to Pamela Ovens, Lynn Harrelson Tisch, Elinor Gentleman, Lynda Halpern and Jackie Cordray who shared their opinion on women empowerment and their reviews of Lessons in Chemistry. As one woman stated, “I was told over and over: Don’t hide your light under a bushel!”


ReelCorner 1219 DonneDonne Paine, film enthusiast, once lived around the corner from the Orson Wells Theater in Cambridge, Massachu-setts, where her strong interest in films, especially independent ones, began. Supporter of the arts, especially films, she has traveled to local and national film festivals including Sundance, Toronto and Tribeca. There is nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. She encourages film goers to support Hilton Head local theaters, Park Plaza Theater and Northridge. To support her habit of frequent movie going, Donne is a vaccine medicine nurse consultant and also the author of 4 Interview Pillars available on Amazon. See you at the movies!

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