We saw this movie last night at Sundance in Madison. I have a special love for the documentaries in this niche. Show this new one as a triple feature with "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" and "Grey Gardens." Here's the trailer for "Joan Rivers." Watch for the insult to Wisconsin, which got a huge laugh here in Wisconsin.
There was a line I tried to memorize, for me, the most interesting line in the movie. It was something like: "I am an actress — an actress playing the role of a comedian." When she was in high school, Joan was in all the plays. We see her in Shakespearean costume. She still sees herself as an actress. She says: You can say anything about her as a comedian, but don't criticize her acting. That's the one thing that hurts. That may seem very odd, because do you think of her as an actress (other than in the sense that when she's doing her comedy she may conceive of herself as playing a character that isn't really her)? She had a dramatic role in the movie "The Swimmer" (with Burt Lancaster)? And in the 90s she starred in (and co-wrote) the Broadway play "Sally Marr ... and Her Escorts" (a play about the woman who is mostly famous for being Lenny Bruce's mother). The NYT said:
Is Ms. Rivers also a great actress? No, she is not. But she is exuberant, fearless and inexhaustible. If you admire performers for taking risks, then you can't help but applaud her efforts. "Sally Marr" asks her to dig down deep and dredge up some elemental emotions. Ms. Rivers backs off from none of them. In her portrayal of a gutsy woman who has hit the skids more than once in her 80-odd years, there is a childlike sincerity that exerts its own spell in the end. Between Ms. Rivers and Ms. Marr an understanding obviously exists.....So is she an actress, and if so, who is the real person? I don't think you get the answer in the "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work." There's a scene where she's doing a radio promotion for her new book — "Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery" — and the interviewer goes on about how, whatever a woman does to herself to try to look beautiful, she must, in the end, want to be loved as the person she really is. Joan's response: Who is the real me? Perhaps when the real person is an actor, there is a hollowness that must be filled with a written character.
[E]arly on, when Sally goes into her theory of comedy. "You don't start with funny and make it funnier," she explains. "Comedy comes from pain."...
It is the play's contention that without Sally Marr... there would have been no Lenny Bruce. Her outspokenness blazed the way for his iconoclasm; from her hatred of hypocrisy sprang his. She was even there when he made his first tentative steps as an M.C. in strip joints to coach him on the intricacies of comic timing and lend him some of her material. "Lenny Bruce opened the door for every modern American comic, right?" she says, putting her checkered past into perspective for us. "So, in a way, you could say I gave birth to George Carlin and Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams and Bill Cosby and Gilda Radner and David Letterman."
Note to commenters: Please say something more interesting than that you don't like her surgically destroyed face. We can take that as a given. Don't be boring. It's worse than being ugly. Around here.