This documentary tracks a year in the life of Joan Rivers. We begin at a relatively low ebb in her career, with her finding it difficult to land desirable gigs. She throws herself into the production of an autobiographical play that debuts in Edinburgh, and her hope is that the London reception will be glowing enough to provide enough momentum for a Stateside production. Meanwhile, she and daughter Melissa are contestants on Celebrity Apprentice. As the film follows the ups and downs of these efforts (concentrating particularly on the play), Rivers opens up about her life and career.
This is a very smart, enormously entertaining, and very funny documentary. There is plenty of footage of Rivers in performance from all stages of her career. For those whose exposure to her has been limited to snippets of red carpet interviews and jokes about her plastic surgery (and I am one of those benighted souls), this film will be a revelation. There’s a reason why this woman became famous in the first place – she is one ferocious stand-up comic, and as good as the footage here is, it leaves the viewer hoping for more. That’s a good thing. There are, though, one or two less felicitous gaps in an otherwise very revealing doc, most notably what, precisely, was behind the erratic behavior and unexplained disappearances by Rivers’ long-term manager. But this is a trivial quibble. The film is a piece of work indeed: sterling work by directors Ricki Stern and Anni Sunderberg, and brave work by Rivers.
The transfer is impeccable, and the film itself is quite sumptuous-looking. The colours have a richness to them that one doesn’t associate with documentaries, but are entirely appropriate for Rivers’ outlandish getups and insanely luxurious apartment (she describes it – quite accurately – as “how Marie-Antoinette would live if she had money”). The flesh tones are excellent, and the image is terrifically sharp.
All one asks for in this kind of film is for the dialogue to be clear. And it is. But the music is nicely handled in the mix, and there are even some surround elements (audience applause, for example), all of which is bonus. This isn’t sound design that audiophiles are going to swoon over, but neither is this the film in which they should be expecting such an experience.
Commentary Track: Stern and Rivers do the honours, with Rivers doing most of the talking, effectively doubling the documentary value of the disc. Pretty funny stuff, too.
Deleted Scenes: (29:13) A montage. Interesting, but not crucial.
Sundance Q&A: (12:09) A post-screening discussion, with Rivers in fine form, though the questions are hard to make out.
Trailer and TV Spots.
Beyond a doubt, one of the docs of the year. Absolutely revelatory.