Monday, November 16, 2015

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

3/4

Rated R for Language and Sexual Humor

Joan Rivers' daughter Melissa said that comedians are innately insecure because they're essentially standing up on stage alone and saying "laugh."  "Laugh at me or with me, just laugh," she says.  When someone laughing at you is the goal, it's a strange one.

What makes "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is its honesty.  Documentaries work best when they confront the material head on, and Joan bares it all.  Not literally, thankfully, but this is definitely not a vanity project.  She is open about her struggles, her fears, and her insecurities.  It's at times heartbreaking to watch, but always compelling.

The film follows Joan for a year in her career.  She's in a bit of a rut, with all of the places and opportunities being booked by other, more "hot" comedians like Kathy Griffin (who appears in this documentary).  But Joan understands that that is the nature of show business.  Sometimes you're hot, other times you're not.  So she keeps plugging away, working hard and waiting for that next big break to get back on top.

The insight into the life of a stand-up comic (Rivers always considered herself to be an actress, and that stand-up just paid the bills).  It's not a pretty picture, to be honest.  In fact, Rivers says that you shouldn't do it unless you can't do anything else.  Fortunately, or perhaps not, Rivers is highly driven.  She'll do anything to stay in it, and she'll never quit until she's in the grave.  Although this film was made 5 years before her death, she never stopped performing until she passed away last year.

The film is more stream of consciousness than a traditional documentary might be.  I suppose that makes sense since it is covering a whole year in her life.  Still, the film seems to lack focus at times, and the humor quotient is much lower than one might think about a stand-up comic.  This is more thoughtful and perceptive.

But Rivers was an engaging enough character, and the fact that she hides nothing from the camera makes her all the more watchable.

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