Review: Joan Rivers,A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers,to Generation Y at least,is known for her role in E!'s Fashion Police,taken as a warning against plastic surgery and is generally regarded as 'one nasty woman'. I'm personally a huge fan,having read some of books and enjoy her biting,unrestrained sense of humor but even I'm unfamiliar with Joan beyond the little facts we know,and this documentary sheds light on the personality behind the public figure, and does one hell of a good job explaining the incredible longevity of her 50-year career in the spotlight.

Documentaries are probably hard for all involved,the director needs to balance his or her own hand and somehow manage a neutral,but felt presence,whereas a documentary surrounding one individual,I'd expect her to be acutely aware of the cameras around her,and choose to remain a cautious and self-serving character.

There are so many right things with this documentary,I love how the entire narrative is tied to a single stand-up performance of hers,which bears no significant role to the timeline but is effectively used to passively mother the whole film,so even though Joan and the crew move from city to city,and we jump past days,weeks and sometimes years,it all feels grounded onto the present,and the structure is one of the film's biggest strengths.

They address the issues we want them to address,and switch from the stage to the writing room,crossing past an unspoken line and into Joan's personal life,where we see she is a shrewd,strong-willed woman with the perseverance to last several downfalls in her life and career,broken friendships and in one part where she is the subject of a Comedy Central Roast (where she sits on a pretty chair and people take turns mocking her),she gracefully laughs the whole way but later without words,and in only a few seconds,displays a vulnerability that is a sharp contrast to the Joan we all think we know.And these seconds are extended,but eventually become the flesh and skin of the film.

 This is the best documentary I've seen since King of Kong or Wordplay,but those two had the advantage of a competition,which draws the best and worst of all involved,but her it is Joan alone,supported by some tidbits on her courtesy of family members,staff and unlike The September Issue,which was allegedly all about Anna Wintour but where Wintour was a distance,cold and unexplored subject,Joan is truthful,real and the woman who emerges by the end of the film is a damaged hero,with unbeatable wit and unreluctantly fearless.


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