Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

“If ever a movie has an accurate title, this is [it]… One of the most truthful documentaries about show business I’ve seen.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
Year: 2010
Country: USA
Running time: 85 mins
Censor Rating: M - offensive language, sexual references

Producers: Ricki Stern, Seth Keal, Annie Sundberg
Screenplay: Ricki Stern
Photography: Charles Miller
Editor: Penelope Falk
Sound: Seth Keal
Music: Paul Brill

With: Joan Rivers, Jocelyn Pickett, Billy Sammeth, Larry Thompson, Kathy Griffin, Melissa Rivers, Don Rickles, Dennis Leary, Lily Tomlin

Festivals: Sundance, San Francisco, Tribeca 2010

Flamboyant exhibitionism and stoic masochism have rarely been more visibly wired together in a performer’s dynamo than in this funny, complex portrait, onstage and off, of comedian Joan Rivers. No celebrity flunkies, filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback, NZIFF07) spent a year – her 75th – filming the doyenne of bad-mouthed women’s stand-up. She begins the movie so out of work she claims she’d knock out her own teeth to be cast in a denture ad. We watch as she fills up a blank appointment book and has a ball. But observe her sang froid the morning after an adoring audience have lapped up her show, as she has her assistant spell out every withering review: you might learn a lot about cruelty and pain, guts and survival in showbiz. — BG

“Pioneer comedian. Plastic-surgery freak. Red-carpet maven. Foul-mouthed shock artist. No matter how you think of her, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is likely to expand your idea of who, exactly, Joan Rivers is… Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg make the most of their subject’s characteristic mixture of bravery and the desire to entertain, even if at her own expense. Working mostly with observational footage and interviews both funny and frank, Stern and Sundberg pepper the film with enough archival material to remind us of Rivers’ bright taboo-breaking beginnings and of the disappointments and tragedies in her life. The end result is a complex portrait of a born entertainer – a constantly shifting mixture of determination, fear, moxie and regret – who continues to persevere despite what others may think of her.” — Rachel Rosen, San Francisco International Film Festival

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