24 December 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg, 2010)

I've always found something compelling about Joan Rivers. Even before she looked like she might be Amanda Lepore's biological mother. It's clear that she's intelligent and funny even though much of her humor is unintelligent and unfunny. It's like she's this great star devoured by her insecurities and half defeated by her own bitterness. I felt like the scene where Melissa talks about how her mother unconsciously works to make people dislike her could be expanded to cover her career. I guess the trouble with her is that her humor isn't clever enough to make up for how hostile she is.

The movie is engaging but it doesn't really rise to the same level of, say, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which I confess to adore. She may certainly have opened a lot of doors for a lot of comediennes but I wish the film had paid tribute to other early comediennes like Rusty Warren or Fanny Brice or spent a moment talking about her relationship to other comediennes in the cannon. Of course, that would have turned this into an A&E special. I just felt like the scope was too narrow at times and it lacked the dramatic intensity and vulnerability that made the Tammy Faye piece so compelling. Even when I compare this to other recent profiles like the Jimmy Carter documentary or The September Issue, I'm just not sure it was as layered or ambitious by comparison. C+

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