This documentary follows one year in the life of Joan Rivers, who sees herself first and foremost as an actress, with her life as a comedienne/writer just an extension of being an actress. Now at age 75, Rivers has faced her ups and downs in her forty plus year career, the year leading up to filming being a down compared to what she would have wanted, which is a calendar full of engagements with several engagements each day. That want is in part to support her opulent personal lifestyle, but is more a need to bolster her own sense of self-worth as a basically insecure person who is probably best known now for her overuse of cosmetic surgery rather than her professional work. She feels that Kathy Griffin, who she admires, is now getting all the engagements she would have gotten in her prime. During this year, Rivers is seen going from engagement to engagement, some big - such as a Kennedy Center Honors for George Carlin, a double bill with Don Rickles in New York, and her own celebrity... Written by
In Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg's documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, we get an up close and personal behind one of the hardest working woman in show-business. From her youthful aspirations to become an actress, we find out that comedy wasn't always priority number one on Joan's list. Comedy was a way to support her acting career. She later notes that you can make fun of her comedy career all you want, but leave her acting abilities alone. She even suggests that she is an actress playing a comedienne.
Following a successful appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, her career was and her "industry" was set in stone. There was no turning back. From performing her act in Vegas and her hosting of The Tonight Show for Johnny on numerous occasions. Her comedy was (and is) in your face. If a joke is thought to be too edgy, she knows she hit her mark.
I'll let you fill in the rest when you see the movie, but this isn't about where Joan has gone or the accomplishments she has achieved. It's about who Joan is today, how she is constantly looking to reinvent herself and stay fresh. Her unbridled enthusiasm for performing and staying busy. Her commitment to family and helping others.
In the film, we see Joan talking on the phone, looking for an endorsement deal. She says she'll speak for anything, including adult diapers and male enhancement drugs. She's not a sell out, but is willing to thrust herself upon the masses in order to get noticed. Through much of the film we see her working on a stage play, a sort of autobiographical play where she delves into what it's like to be Joan. Her concern isn't about whether or not people will like her, but whether or not they will accept her back into the mainstream. She is well aware that people view her as the poster child for plastic surgery. She is well aware that her age (75) is something that can hurt her to land a job. Does that stop her? It only strengthens her desire to succeed.
While some people will view this movie as a cry for attention, and I can see how they would feel this way. Joan lives a life of luxury, in a posh, elegant, and expensive apartment in New York City. Her need to live luxuriously and with all of the plastic surgery stems from her past where she never felt nor was never told she was beautiful. She needs this things in order to feel pretty, to feel like there is a reason to wake up.
That is not what this film is about. We are not meant to feel bad for someone who doesn't feel pretty. We are meant to see a woman who gives her all for her fans, whom she adores, and her family, that she cares for tremendously, especially her daughter and grandson. There is a brief moment where she sits down to write out a stack of checks, both for herself and also to others, like family members who attend private school and whatnot. She doesn't bat an eye at this stack, but breezes through them because she knows they must be paid for.
Her comedy might not be your cup of tea, but I think we can all learn something from this relentless woman. A life devoted to work and to family. What a piece of work. It's a shame that this film was left off the short list for Best Documentary for the Oscars. I hope you will all see it nonetheless.
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