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Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work
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Reviewed on 2010-07-25
Received[3.5]  out of 4 stars
Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg were given unprecedented access into the life of this controversial, ground-breaking comedy icon who paved the way for female stand-up comediennes. The camera follows her everywhere over the course of 14 months, which includes the celebration of her 75th birthday.

She comes across as a smart businesswoman whose greatest fear is an empty calendar. She is a chronic workaholic who never wants to retire. The audience will feel like a fly on the wall in a no-holds-barred approach in which no topic is off limits. She candidly discusses during interview segments: her breakthrough appearances on “The Tonight Show” hosted by Johnny Carson and her permanent label as guest hostess spanning two decades; her decision to have her own late night program on Fox that caused Carson to never speak to her again; the suicide of her husband, Edgar; and her relationship with daughter Melissa, who followed her into show business.

The movie opens with close-ups of her applying makeup to a face that has undergone numerous plastic surgeries. “First I was an advocate (of plastic surgery), then the poster girl and finally the joke of it,” Rivers says.

She gives a tour of her lavish apartment filled with creature comforts. The most important pieces of furniture have to be the file cabinets containing index cards with 30 years of jokes. Rivers stresses the importance of a sense of humor. Her anger fuels the crude language of the shocking material that has made her famous. The movie doles out clips giving examples of her raunchy comedy shtick.

Her rarely seen charitable side also is featured as she delivers meals to the elderly on Thanksgiving. Other highlights are a remarkable working day, considering her age, and spontaneous reactions to a heckler in the audience. Rivers’ biggest revelation is contained in this statement: “When I am on stage, it is the only time I am truly happy.”

This non-fiction film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the award for editing. This honor was well-deserved since the filmmakers condensed more than a year of footage into 84 fascinating minutes. Home videos, personal photographs and archival footage are interspersed throughout the movie.

Don Rickles, Kathy Griffin and Rivers’ 9-year-old grandson, Cooper, make cameo appearances. This very funny and entertaining documentary is now playing exclusively at AMC Studio 30, Glenwood Arts and the Tivoli in Westport.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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