Joan Rivers has not been at the top of many a feminist’s list because she has probably had more plastic surgery procedures than years she’s been alive — 77 as of this week. But don’t let your feelings about plastic surgery, or her obsession to staving off aging deter you from seeing this revelatory and substantive look into one of the hardest working women in showbiz today.
The film, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work directed by Ricki Stern and co-directed by Annie Sundberg follows Joan for over a year of stand up performances, theatre openings, family events, and yes procedures on her face and you are not bored for one second. It is fascinating to see a woman work so hard in a business where women her age are scarce. And boy does she need to work hard cause she lives like a queen (she made a joke that Marie Antoinette would have lived like her if she had money), and has a huge and loyal staff to support to whom she is very generous. I never expected Joan Rivers to be the type of person who would have staff work with her for decades, but that just gives you a little insight into how different at least my perception of her was from the real Joan.
But needing money to support her lavish lifestyle is not the only thing that drives Joan. She NEEDS to perform. She is always on. She came in to meet with a group of writers and she was working all of us even though we were asking the questions. She had us in the palm of her hands in five seconds. That’s how good she is. Performing to Joan is oxygen. When she is not working or thinking about working she is not happy. She’s one of these people who is very clear that she knew she wanted to perform since she was in kindergarten. And the amazing thing is that she did it and and did it all on her own. She had no connections but she made it.
This is a hard business and Joan has had some serious ups and downs that have all been played out in the public. She was the first female guest host on the Tonight Show. She was the first woman to get her own late night show on Fox. Her show flamed out spectacularly which sadly helped lead to the suicide of her husband, producer and partner Edgar Rosenberg.
What the movie shows is that at 77 Joan is way funnier, and way more tenacious that people half (or even a quarter) her age. She makes no bones about wanting and needing to continue working and while I think she is happy to have paved the road for many a female comedian who came after her (and by the way she was the first person to tell abortion jokes), she is adamant about not going away. She believes — and this movie shows — she still has a lot more to give.
Don’t miss it. Opens in NY and LA today and in other major cities shortly.