Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Break Thru Films
Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre
Review by: Larry Thomas
Here’s the question you must decide for yourself: would you like to spend ninety minutes in a dark room with Joan Rivers? If the answer is yes, then you won’t want to miss seeing the new documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. On the other hand, if the answer is no, you’ll likely be able to make better use of your movie going time.
Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg spent a year and change with the long-running comic icon when she turned seventy-five, filming interviews with Rivers and others, as well as part of her stand-up routines. And why would anyone subject herself to such a warts-and-all look at her life and career? She needs the money. Her career is in yet another dip, and Rivers will do just about anything for a buck. She is a compulsive workaholic, seemingly with no ability to relax or unwind, who prefers to keep a schedule that would make younger performers wilt with fatigue. She’s in almost every frame of the film. After all, it’s her name above the title, so she’s not about to share space with too many people. There are scenes with her personal assistant, her business manager, and her former manager Billy Sammeth, who recently filed suit against her for personal transgressions incurred in the day-to-day high-powered horror story that is the chew-em-up, spit-em-out nature of show biz in general.
Granted, she has been through a lot: an elevator-ride of a career with constant ups and downs; the suicide of her husband and producer Edgar Rosenberg; her conflicts with daughter Melissa, and more. And yes, if not for Joan Rivers, the role of women in comedy would not have expanded to the extent of the number of performers we have today, as evidenced by a couple of clips with Kathy Griffin.
Joan Rivers has been part of a lot of show biz history during her long run. After her first appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” Carson boldly proclaimed on-air that Joan will be a star, which not only happened, but also led to being named permanent guest host for Carson. Once Rivers resigned that position for her own late-night talk show on the Fox Network, Carson never spoke to her again. The archival footage of Joan Rivers in the early years of her career is fascinating, especially if you only know her from being the nosy lady with the bad face lift on the red carpet at awards shows. And unless you see her live, you don’t have a clue as to how raunchy, yet hilarious, her humor can be. Some jokes will have you pausing to think, wondering if it’s ok to laugh, then completely cracking up at the non-p.c. thoughts coming out of her mouth.
But, as I said, if you’re a fan, it’s a must-see film. If not, why bother, because either way, watching this film won’t change your already formed opinion of Joan Rivers.
The R-rated Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work opens on Friday at the Mariemont Theatre.