MPI // 2010 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // January 5th, 2011
Can We Talk?
This is easily the best documentary feature of 2010, and you don't have to be a fan of Joan Rivers to appreciate it. What makes Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work so remarkable is that it chronicles what its like to work in show business day in and day out. We get to see a seventy-something year old woman toil 24/7 over the course of the year, and fret the entire time that her career may be over. This is worrisome because so many people's livelihoods depend on her. She lives in a pressure cooker where every move could bring glory or humiliation, and sometimes both simultaneously.
A Piece of Work begins with the jaw-dropping image of Joan's face sans makeup in extreme close-up, followed by artists transforming her in to what we know. It's a brave move, and puts us on notice that she is going to let her guard down for the camera. For the next 90 minutes, we see Joan panic about a lack of bookings, watch a play go down in flames, and then see fortunes turn around as Donald Trump comes into her life. What starts as a low time turns in to a year where Joan wins The Celebrity Apprentice and returns to the spotlight. We get to see how many irons she has in the fire, and learn this the icon's secret to remaining a semi-legend for over 40 years. Joan Rivers never sleeps, and she never stops. Well into her seventies, she remains funny, nasty, and bold; unafraid to do anything.
The DVD release does a lot of things right. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is fairly clean and clear, but this is an on-the-fly documentary, so clarity can vary with ambient conditions. The Dolby 5.1 audio is the same, mostly clear save for when something is muffled by what's going on around here. Extras include deleted sequences which give more insight into Joan's world; a lively commentary with Joan and co-director Annie Sundberg, where Joan relishes the chance to mock herself at every turn; a short Sundance Q&A session; and finally all the trailers used to promote the film. Overall, a great package.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is absolutely one of the best documentaries I have seen, because it shows what it's like to be a hardworking comic in show business. This woman has a remarkable life, an amazing work ethic, and can make you laugh until you cry. Driven by fear and insecurity, she continues to work a full decade after most people stop. From a gig in Toronto, to Palm Springs, and then Minnesota in less than two days?! If you think show biz is easy then just sit down and watch this. Imagine anybody at age 75 doing this, and then come back to me and tell me you wouldn't be exhausted. It's no wonder she's a star.
Not guilty for making me respect the irreverent queen of comedy.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes