Film: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Cast includes: Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Don Rickles, Melissa Rivers, Mark Phillips
Director: Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback)
Genre: Documentary/Comedy/Biography (2010)

In brief: The first thing we see is the close-up of an eye. As the camera moves over the face, there’s nothing about it that looks familiar, even though we know who it is. As make-up is applied, we finally start to recognize Joan Rivers. Once the poster girl for plastic surgery… now the plastic surgery joke… Joan has been entertaining us and reinventing herself since the mid 60s. She agreed to let two documentary filmmakers follow her around for a year. Why? Because "Joan turns nothing down.” She tells us she will “go anywhere, do anything.” Fear isn’t a half-empty audience; it’s an empty calendar. But in truth, Joan’s calendar doesn’t stay empty for long. At 75, she has a schedule that would challenge a 20-year old.

When Joan first started, there were few comedians… male or female… black or white… gay or straight… who would go where she went. Even today, there are few edgier than Joan Rivers. And yet there’s a whole generation that sees her more as the butt of a joke, rather than a master of comedy. But Joan, a chronic workaholic, has never even considered the option of retirement. She’s not just an entertainer, she’s an industry… with agents, assistants, accountants, just for starters. She tells us she may be past her sell-by date, but she wants to live well and is willing to work for it. In an age when so many among us feel entitled, entitlement is not even a concept for Joan Rivers. She is fearless as a comedian and as the focus of this documentary. She talks about the highs and lows of both her career and her personal life… and her constant struggles to make a comeback… and make a comeback again and again. One quote from the film is especially poignant… “Age: it’s the one mountain that you can’t overcome.” But Joan isn’t surrendering, even to age, without a fight.

This is a very funny movie. For older viewers, it reminds us why we loved Joan Rivers so much when we first came to know her. For younger viewers, it introduces this take-no-prisoners comedian, who is truly, seriously funny. But this is more than just a funny movie. Joan talks about a lot of issues most of us face as we pass our sell-by dates. It takes hard work to remain relevant in a youth-oriented society. It takes determination, bravery and a willingness to reinvent ourselves… again and again. If anyone deserves to remain relevant, it’s Joan Rivers. When someone calls her an “icon,” Joan has a harsh comeback. She’s still just a struggling comedian and certainly “not ready to be an icon.”

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Popped kernels for the laughs and for the surprise of finding out what a truly interesting person Joan really is

Popcorn Profile

Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Women 
Distribution: Mainstream limited release
Mood:  Upbeat  
Tempo: Cruses comfortably  
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism 
Character Development: Engaging  
Language: Irreverent and true-to-life 
Social Significance: Thought provoking  


Comments welcome

Join our email list









©2017, Leslie Sisman | Design, website and content by Leslie Sisman