Tuesday, January 18, 2011

DVD Review: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work ***
Directed by:
Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg.

It is easy to make fun of Joan Rivers. She has had as much plastic surgery as Michael Jackson, and at this point she really does look terrible because of it all. She goes on the shopping channel constantly to hock her cheesy, costume jewelry. She has a voice that can sound like nails on a chalk board. When she was used to do the Red Carpet at all those awards shows – the only place I really know her from – she was completely clueless as to who most of the people she was interviewing were, and what they were there for (I remember her asking Djimon Hounsou what it was like to be nominated for Amistad at the Oscars back in 1997, only to have him tell her he wasn’t nominated). On the surface, it really does appear like she is a bit of a train wreck. Personally, I could never really stand her – I didn’t find her funny, and most of the time, I found her down right annoying.

What makes Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work such a fascinating documentary is that it humanizes Rivers. For someone of my generation, who wasn’t around when Rivers was getting her start as a comedian, and had her biggest successes filling in for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, I think I only ever saw Rivers after she essentially became a caricature of herself. But as the movie makes clear, Rivers truly was a groundbreaking comedian – one of the first female comics to talk about sex, who proved she could be as crash and disgusting as the boys. She is a workaholic, which was fine when everyone wanted her to do something – but has become somewhat painful in recent years when the offers have dried up. And yet, she picks herself up, and continues to work, day in, day out. She has had a tough life, and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work shows the ups and downs of celebrity as good as any other documentary I can think of.

How much you like the movie may depend on how much you like Rivers. Personally, while I felt a tremendous amount of sympathy towards Rivers – something I did not expect – and started to see her as the insecure person that she really is – craving the recognition that she will probably never receive – I still don’t find her funny – I still find her voice to be like nails on a chalk board. In short, while I like the movie, while I think it is a wonderful examination of celebrity, and like it on that level – I still won’t be getting tickets to see her show if she ever brings it to my town.

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