Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Review)

(6/11/10; Documentary, Comedy)
Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Annie Duke, Kathy Griffin, Don Rickles, Melissa Rivers, Donald Trump
DIR: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
MPAA: R for language and sexual humor.
1 hour 25 mins
BOX: $2,927,972

Brutally-honest doc literally peels back the layers on the career and life of one of comedy’s most celebrated figures over the course of a year. You know things are gonna get too close for comfort when the movie opens with graphic close-ups of the 75-year-old fan of plastic surgery, sans makeup.

No subject is off limits: her famous fallout with Johnny Carson when she accepted her own talk show, her age, her fractured relationships with her daughter Melissa and longtime manager Billy. It’s all there, supported by vintage clips and guest stars providing commentary. Rivers dishes about her husband Edgar’s suicide (which resulted in a ghastly, but seemingly therapeutic, movie of the week in which Joan and Melissa played themselves).

The filmmakers lucked out by catching Rivers at a low point and following her through a period of incredible success, providing an arc to the narrative. Rivers is never anything but scathingly honest and it’s that unvarnished access that allows us to cozy up to one of comedy’s most caustic performers. It’s hard not to applaud Rivers for her honesty, tenacity and an unwavering work ethic that would make the Energizer bunny exhausted; and a sharp tongue that would give Lenny Bruce warm fuzzies.

Rivers is truly a piece of work and this is one great visual document of a life. (IFC Films)


Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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