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USA 2010
Directed by
Ricki Stern / Anne Sundberg
142 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work

What makes this documentary about the infamous comedienne, Joan Rivers, compelling viewing is the insider’s access we are given to its subject. It may not show all her warts but as the opening scene with an extreme close-up of Rivers’ blotched face having its mask of make-up applied indicates, it is one that wants you to see the reality of things.

Given the amount of cosmetic surgery the star has had you may well ask, where is the reality? Well, the reality is Joan Alexandra Molinsky Sanger Rosenberg, who started her show-biz career in the late 1950s under her assumed name.  But now at the age of 75 who knows? Rivers claims she doesn’t care. As she says: "What's the real self?"  Whilst not taking this at face (so to speak) value Stern and Sundberg don’t try to answer this question but Rivers’ herself pretty much gives it when she says that she is really only happy when she’s on a stage. The illusion is everything it seems.

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work does give us a brief overview of her career, with some archival footage of her television appearances, stills and the occasional friend or colleague, or her daughter Melissa, making some observations about her. However the most part is given over to accompanying Rivers as she flits from one side of the country to the other during the course of a year, occasionally pausing to reflect on her life to the camera. Like Matt Tyrnauer’s excellent 2008 documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, undoubtedly we are getting the image of the subject that the subject wants us to have. Rivers, after all, uses her personal life in her stage show so this kind of revelation is as much an act as it is actual.  If anything, Rivers, who considers herself an actress is playing a comedian and the real story here is not so much that of Rivers the individual as it is about the fraught life of the performer, famous or otherwise and what drives them. For anyone interested in such questions, spending time up close and personal with Rivers is an opportunity not to be missed.

DVD Extras: Audio commentary with Joan Rivers with Anne Sundberg; Extra scenes: Q & A with Rivers and the crew at Sundance 2010; Theatrical trailer

Available from: Madman




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