Judge Bryan Pope's high school nickname was Fang... but not for the reason you might suspect.
Go under the wigs and behind the scenes as the Queen of Comedy, Phyllis Diller, goes out on top.
Watching the brief audience Q&A included on this package, one worries about which Phyllis Diller is in store for us on the feature presentation. Will it be the mugging wiseacre we see here, practically begging for public acceptance and digging for her next punchline, or will it be the softer, more guarded side of Diller, a side that the best comedians always seem to harbor?
Rest assured, dear friends, that it's the latter. Director Gregg Barson has done a fantastic job of showing us the woman beneath the wig, the humanity behind the act. Goodnight, We Love You, which picked up several "best documentary" awards when it ran the film festival circuit several years back, is an entertaining, often illuminating glimpse into the life of a comedy legend.
Diller, who was in her mid-80s at the time, invited Barson and his crew into her home and her life in the days leading up to her farewell performance. What surprised me most was Diller's warmth and vulnerability, traits that have always been miles away from her brash, colorful stage persona.
Barson's film is a little lazy from a structural standpoint. Certain segments seem randomly placed, while Diller's thoughtful insights on aging would have packed more punch toward the end. But the fact that Barson gets Diller to lower her guard is not to be taken lightly, and we learn things that only the most devout fan probably knew. Diller's an artist and an accomplished concert pianist. She also plays the harpsichord (and she's quite good), has a weak spot for classic cars, and enjoys cooking.
Of course, Barson's film gets more intimate. The flamboyant Diller is surprisingly private, and she launches into a diatribe about personal space and the symbolic importance of the handshake. She likes silence, and insists on being left alone during the last few minutes before she walks on stage. In one telling sequence, she admits to deliberately refusing a starstruck bellhop's hug, preferring to decide for herself who gets that close to her.
Lest you think Barson's film is a sad farewell to a performer who is putting herself out to pasture, consider the many fun moments he captures. The expected tour of Diller's tasteful home, including her outrageous "wig closet," is worth the price of admission. But one of the best moments is Diller's reunion with the "Dustbiters," a society of travel secretaries who have worked for Diller throughout her career, and they are clearly an appreciative, adoring bunch. One woman admits her entire life has been defined by her employment with Diller.
In the end, what emerges from Goodnight, We Love You is a portrait of a performer who, after 47 years in the business, has finally said "enough!" to 4 a.m. flights, an ever-changing staff, and the constant need to "be on." Diller is ready to finish out her life. Simply put, she's tired.
If you don't buy that—as many people evidently did not—check out the disc's most generous extra. Diller's final, 43-minute performance has been recorded and included here in its entirety, and it's a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's always a pleasure seeing Diller command the stage. Next to her husband, the elusive Fang, Diller was her own best target, and the self-deprecating madame was a master of one-upping her own punchlines before sending them off with her trademark cackle. If her new material is sometimes stale (taking a swing at Monica Lewinsky is soooo 1998) or feels like a Golden Girls' reject ("the best contraception for old people is nudity"), her old jokes still sparkle. Alas, that's more than can be said for the Divine Ms. D, who paces from one side of the stage to the other, frowning, scowling, and looking bored and, yes, very tired.
Also included on this surprisingly loaded package is the aforementioned 10-minute Q&A session featuring Diller and Barson. Recorded at the documentary's world premiere at the San Diego Film Festival, the feature consists mostly of Diller trying to impress the audience with off-the-cuff punchlines that aren't up to par with her usual stuff.
More interesting is the "Dustbiter" featurette, in which Diller sits down with one of her former secretaries and recalls life on the road. Some of the anecdotes they share will have you roaring (Diller attracting the attention of local law enforcement when she went shopping for whips and boots while dressed as a nun).
Goodnight, We Love You is presented in 1.78:1 nonanamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. No subtitles. It's a strong, clean presentation for a fine documentary, and the package is a perfect companion to the recently released Phyllis Diller: Not Just Another Pretty Face.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Phyllis Diller's Farewell Stand-Up Concert
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