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joan rivers
Click for full sized poster

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Starring Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, Kathy Griffin, Melissa Rivers
Written by Ricki Stern
Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
website: www.ifcfilms.com

We don't usually review documentaries for the very simple reason that most of our readers have shown no interest in these films. Comedienne Joan Rivers has been such a fixture of the American landscape (40+ years, in fact) that we thought we'd have a look. At minimum we knew there'd be a laugh or two <g>.

oooo kay. . . If you've only seen Rivers in her regular television gigs prepare your ears.

IN SHORT: George Carlin would be sooo proud. [Rated R for language and sexual humor. 84 minutes]

Actually, we're not surprised at all that Rivers lets loose with any number of members of Carlin's infamous list of "Words You Can't Say.... (on television)" Most comics do. What did surprise us in this portrait, filmed in the year after she celebrated her 75th birthday, is how driven Rivers is to continue working. You would think that, given her age and success, that some down time would be appreciated. No. If nothing else, the portrait of Joan Rivers that we see shows a woman who carries the weight of her personnel world . . . that's no spelling error. That's two assistants, a manager and a lawyer all in addition to the usual motherly worries about daughter Melissa.

For the generation that knows Joan Rivers only as "the old lady who works the red carpet for E!" (and we don't know if she's still doing that gig 'cuz the red carpet bores the junk out of us) she is, was and always will be a ground breaking comedienne -- the first, as far as we can recall, not to require a husband, or other male, as a comic foil. Her historic role is attested to by other comics, including Don Rickles, Kathy Griffin and a whole messa names from a Comedy Central Roast.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work cuts back and forth between pieces of old television and nightclub appearances, interviews done for the documentary and footage shot at an unnamed (and unrecognized by us) New York City comedy club where Rivers test new material. For those that know only the most basic facts of her personal story, it is all covered: her discovery by Johnny Carson and his eventual disavowal; life before during and after husband Edgar; all that plastic surgery and the pain of becoming the butt of the joke. That's just the material we can remember off the top of our head. Everything else was just too funny to write down.

That being said, we took no notes on this one. We were too busy laughing (and when we weren't laughing, there were damned good reasons why).  Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work details just how difficult the standup life is, even as Rivers herself insists that she has always been a comic actress and not a comedienne. That image may have died as quickly as her one Broadway appearance in an acting role but, whatever.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, he would have paid . . .

$6.50

Any way you look at it, and we've already done that, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is going to be a terrific rental. This is nothing you want TV-accustomed children watching so, if you have no alternative, get a babysitter and buy the big screen ticket. Again, this is not for those averse to four-letter words.


amazon com link Click to buy this film
Click to buy Joan Rivers Live at the London Palladium
Click to buy films starring Joan Rivers
Click to buy books by Joan Rivers

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.