Joan Rivers Film Review


Bio-Pic Paints Empathetic Portrait of Legendary Comedienne

Nowadays, Joan Rivers has basically become the butt of cruel jokes about face-lift disasters as opposed to being the one dishing the dirt on other divas. “It comes back at you, doesn’t it?” she wistfully reminisces in this riveting bio-pic. Still, at 77, the legendary, standup comedienne continuers to ply her trade, never turning down a booking, however humbling the venue.

As Joan explains in this alternately hilarious and dead serious documentary, she persists out of a combination of financial need and competitive drive. For when her husband/inept personal manager Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987, he not only left her broke but with a mountain of debt. Luckily, Joan is a Type-A personality with an incomparable work ethic and has managed to survive, even thrive, in the wake of the family tragedy. Plus, since she has a taste for limos and other trappings of wealth, she remains driven to perform in part to be able to afford to keep living in the lap of luxury.

Co-directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work offers an unusually-intimate peek at a celebrity most of us have come to dismiss as a plastic surgery freak. However, this empathetic portrait thoroughly humanizes its subject as thoroughly-likable by revealing the sensitive side hidden under that permanently frozen countenance no longer capable of showing any emotion. Nonetheless, Joan repeatedly exposes her feelings repeatedly through her words, whether calling her daughter Melissa “a stupid, effing [c-word],” informing her staff that, “I’m lonely, who’s going to [f-word] me tonight?” or hinting at the source of her unfortunate addiction to elective surgery with “No one wants an old woman” and “No one ever told me I was beautiful.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether or not she’s joking here, given how she freely admits that, “The only time I’m truly, truly happy is when I’m on stage.” Thus, the tendency to cover the vulnerability and pain in evidence during downtime with punch line after punch line.

A sobering deconstruction of an enduring showbiz career by an introspective icon whose been at it non-stop since ’66.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and sexual humor.

Running time: 85 Minutes

Distributor: IFC Films

To see a trailer for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, press play: