Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work may be a tough sell for those of you that are not fans of one of the most legendary comediennes of all time, so let me speak to you first. Even if you HATE the most recent winner of The Celebrity Apprentice, this documentary is still a must-see. It’s a fascinating, enlightening look at the dark side of show business and the issues that come with being a part of it for decades. The fact is that many of our most confident on-stage personalities are anything but off-stage and watching Joan Rivers go through her workaholic life sheds light on both the atypical world in which she lives and the relatable human emotions that drive every day of her life. Joan Rivers is a fascinating documentary subject not just for what Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work says about living life in a spotlight but how it feels when you think that you’re no longer in it.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work begins with a very open and honest Rivers showing the audience what scares her most: a blank calendar. Even at seventy-five years old and with the copious fame and adoration she has achieved, Rivers considers a day off a sign of failure. She’s a show business shark in that if she stops moving, she’ll die. She considers even a hint that she may not be at the top of her game a disaster. The film follows her daily pursuit to claim time in the spotlight. Whether mounting a play about her life, performing around the world, appearing on a Comedy Central Roast, or doing time on The Celebrity Apprentice, Rivers is always on the move. She clearly doesn’t need to do it for the money any more. There’s something much deeper at work in her pursuit of fame and this excellent documentary gets below the surface of that pursuit to question exactly what drives it.
Directors Rikki Stern and Anne Sundberg (who made the great The Trials of Daryl Hunt) have delivered the best documentary of the year to date by not overplaying their subject. We don’t get too much about Rivers talk show debacle, too much Melissa, too much about her husband, too much Apprentice – the film is a perfectly balanced story of a year in the life of a legend. Joan Rivers will be the first person to tell you that she’s a legend, someone who smashed down the doors that held women back in her profession. The amazing thing is that she clearly will never think she can top trying to do so.
Rating: FOUR BONES
Release Date: June 18th, 2010
Directors: Rikki Stern & Anne Sundberg