Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work
Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg's documentary about Joan Rivers sounds like a unappetizing proposition at first. "Is she still around?" "Oh, her?" To most of us Rivers is one one of those semi-celebrities who keeps landing in our consciousness, from her days as permanent guest host on the Tonight Show to a recent winning stint on Celebrity Apprentice. The filmmakers have a bit more on their mind though, and even if one finds Rivers's salty, politically incorrect comedy too much to bear it is hard not to come out of the film rooting for her. A Piece of Work follows Rivers for a year, during which time she works, frets about not working more, appears in London in a play she wrote, parts company with her longtime manager, sells her jewelry on QVC, and works. Rivers refuses to slow down or to be treated as a comedy living legend; she's willing to troop through a dank backstage or hop into a scary-looking small plane to get to a gig. If Rivers seems obsessive about her work it's because life hasn't always been kind. Rivers's husband Edgar killed himself shortly after being fired as producer of her failed Fox late-night show, and the decision to leave her Tonight Show gig cost her a relationship with Carson.
It's difficult not to root for Rivers when you see how hard she works, though she does have her blind spots. Rivers considers herself an underappreciated actress, but the glimpses we get of her on stage don't convince (though she does have a Tony nomination.)Her much-mocked relationship with daughter Melissa appears founded in whopping self-esteem issues on both sides, and the two's fraught cab ride to the first Apprentice taping could keep psychiatrists busy for a year. Yet Rivers keeps going, knowing that for every opportunity that slips by there's a young person waiting to pounce. A Piece of Work should be required viewing for anyone who gets on stage in front of people, it's a testament to the fact that opportunities may get harder to find but the drive never goes away.