Saturday, July 31, 2010

Movie Review: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

To listen to the audio version, click here

One of the "beauties" of art cinema is that sometimes you don't know if and when there will be a particular movie showing in your neighborhood since they generally aren't expected to be the big block busters. Every once in a while something will make that transition. This weeks movie, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work released on June 11 and just this weekend it showed up here in Honolulu. I found it an interesting movie although I don't think it will cross over into the block buster category.

The title "a piece of work" could be taken on a couple of different levels. Probably the most obvious would be the plastic surgery aspect of Joan's life. It's well known and documented that she's gone under the knife or botox needle a few times to keep her appearance up. The start of the documentary is close ups of Joan's face minus any of the makeup that transforms her lips, eyes lids and cheekbones into what we see on TV or stage. The second meaning would be the brashness of Joan and her life and comedy. Let me say here that I've been a fan of Joan's since I was in college in the 1980's. While I don't always appreciate the language, I can appreciate the humor. She stepped into areas that took guts in both thought and action. Of course with the language and sexual humor the movie is rated R.

The movie covers roughly a year of her life starting a little before her 75th birthday. We're brought into see everything. The work ethic is laid out on the table. She knows that she has bills to pay and sets out to derive the income to pay those bills. Pulling out calendars showing "these were good years" as page after page has each day filled and filled with multiple appointments. Then she jokes about needing to wear sun glasses to look at the current calendar because of all the glaring white spaces on each page.

The camera follows her as she gears up to have a play about her life called A Work in Progress launch in Edinburgh with eyes on London and even New York. The effort and rehearsals necessary to bring the production to life are given some time on screen. Joan also talks about her fears. Is she an actress or comedienne? She reveals her inner thoughts and what about reviews she could care less about and which reviews cut her to the quick leaving her hurt and what she'll do to avoid the pain.

We experience a Joan Rivers Thanksgiving with all the trimmings. Having a seventeen foot table brought into her house to have friends and family over for a Thanksgiving feast is for the evening. With her charity "God's Love We Deliver" she spends the morning delivering meals with her grandson Conner to people who are shut in due to HIV/AIDS, MS, cancer or other serious illnesses. One of the recipients is Flo Fox, a famous photographer who has been living with MS for twenty plus years. Joan realizes she is blessed.

Joan just seems to keep on going. Showing up for photo shots, traveling to do shows, heading to a hole in the wall in NYC to try out new material, being roasted or show up for a tribute to a fellow comedian each of these a pencil marking in that appointment book to dull out the glaring white. Several times she says she'll do anything. Maybe she should do a commercial with the energizer bunny as she seems to have boundless energy.

Right now Joan is back on top with her win on Celebrity Apprentice. Part of the narrative is about the ups and downs of show business. Starting with Johnny Carson declaring her to be a star, the loss of his friendship when she took on the late night show with FOX, the suicide of her beloved husband Edgar in 1987, the red carpets, the books, the jewelry, both her and her daughter Melissa talk about "the career" like it's another person in the room. In one tender moment she describes the recent loss of a friend and what that huge loss means to her.

She talks love, she talks loss, she talks career, she talks family. The movie is a quite frank observation of a woman who knows that she's not perfect. She says, "I've been told I look good, but never I look beautiful". After watching the 84 minutes, you determine, good or beautiful for yourself.

The Movie Monkey

To subscribe to the audio podcast of the reviews via iTunes click here. Audio versions are released the following Wednesday.

To listen to the audio version, click here