Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010) movie poster

(2010) directors Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
viewed: 12/27/10

This documentary about comedian Joan Rivers has been touted as a real testament to her as a comedy icon.  It follows a year in the life of Rivers, while reflecting on her life and career.

Rivers, if nothing else, is an intense workaholic, eternally fretful to keep her schedule fully booked, the money to keep coming in.  She even shows an empty datebook as an image of horror for her.  And she really does have a go-go-go life, zipping here, doing this show, hitting the Home Shopping Network, writing a play and performing in it.  She’s a tiny little thing, but she goes like the Energizer bunny.

The irony to it is perhaps that by spreading herself all over the place, she’s perhaps cheapened her value.  She’ll blithely tells one potential agent that she’ll do anything.  I’ve never been a particular fan of Rivers, myself, and as far as her cultural presence, it’s easy to see why she seems so ubiquitous.  She’s everywhere.  Perhaps if she was more particular about her work, she’d have more respect.

Once the heir apparent to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, being Carson’s regular anointed substitute host when Carson was on vacation, when Rivers signed a contract with FOX to have her own show, produced by her husband, Carson took it personally, that she was “competition” and never spoke to her again.  Her show tanked and her husband committed suicide.  Since then, she and her daughter have become the media faces all over cable television.  And she’s had a ton of plastic surgery.

Which is all well and good, but she looks like she’s had a lot of plastic surgery.  She has one of these faces you see that are freakishly Botox-ed out, God knows what all else.  But this is part of who Rivers is.  She is from another generation of entertainment.  Starting out in the 1960’s, and having traveled through so much of the industry, she remarks that a woman has to keep her looks and that is why she’s done so much under the knife.

All told, it’s not an uninteresting film, but it’s not the must-see documentary that many have called it.  And as a testament to Rivers herself, it shows some of the unvarnished side, opening with shots of her unmade-up face as make-up is being applied.  It shows her amazingly gaudy New York abode.  And it shows a smart, witty woman who doesn’t seem likely to slow down any time soon.

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