Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work
- Director:Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
- Cast:Kathy Griffin, Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers
- Release Date:October 05, 2010
- Running time:87 minutes
- Film Worth:$13.50
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Alternately funny and poignant, this doco provides a brutally honest look at the entertainment industry and into the life of a comedy icon.
For those who know Joan Rivers only from her red-carpet interviews and a splattering of tabloid stories outlining her latest cosmetic surgery debacle, this convulsively funny and moving documentary will be a revelation. In a clip from a radio interview included early in the film, Rivers asks the host "Who is the real me?" Such a question seems a legitimate one from the sharply witted comedian who uses every detail of her private life as fodder for her acts. One gets the feeling that there's little separation between Rivers' fierce onstage and offstage personas.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work chronicles a year in the life of Rivers - 75 at the time - as she struggles to hold onto her tenuous popularity and survive in an industry that seems eager to replace her with the next young thing. Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (best known for their doco on Darfur genocide The Devil Came on Horseback) follow Rivers as she plays casinos and clubs, directs and stars in a play about her life in London, and wins Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice. Described by a close friend as "a chronic workaholic," Rivers is always on the hustle for her next gig, only content when her diary is packed full with work dates. At one point Rivers says, "If I had invested wisely, I wouldn't be doing this," but even when performing at 4.30 in the afternoon to a half-filled room, one gets the sense that this dedicated comedian is truly in her element only when on stage.
However, rooted beneath the laughs is a deep poignancy, with loneliness and sadness seeping in at the sides of this candid portrait. The documentary reveals the emotional scars incurred when Rivers' mentor and initial champion, Johnny Carson, had her blacklisted from NBC after she was offered, and accepted, a job hosting her own show on a competing network. When the show failed, Rivers' confidence slipped and soon after her long time manager, producer and husband Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide. Despite these dark times, Rivers remained a resilient figure and the film also reveals the complex, but ultimately unshakeable bond, she shares with her showbiz daughter, Melissa.
Hilarious, heartbreaking and at times surprisingly profound, A Piece of Work, reveals that even Rivers, an icon and pioneering funny lady, is largely driven by the same insecurities and need for validation that saddle so many in the world of stand-up comedy.