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Look Who's Talking

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Seth Keal/IFC Films

If there’s one conclusion to be derived from Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s documentary about Joan Rivers, it’s this: The 77-year-old comedienne really is “a piece of work.” She’s also — “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” makes clear — much more than the sum of her polarizing public image. Beyond the plastic surgeries and the abrasive demeanor is a driven, passionate woman who’s achieved the miracle of retaining her show business relevance for more than four decades.

The filmmakers follow Ms. Rivers over an eventful year between 2008 and '09. They chronicle the comedienne’s insanely busy schedule through the course of that year, which includes stand-up gigs across the country, the rehearsal and production of an autobiographical play and winning the second season of “The Celebrity Apprentice.” She plays an out-of-the-way casino in Wisconsin and smiles uncomfortably through a Friars’ Club roast.

Never less than candid, Mr. Rivers allows unlimited access to her most private moments (as the film begins, she’s seen in extreme close-up sans makeup) and shares her deepest thoughts, musing on everything from the vagaries of fame to the wounds still festering from the 1987 suicide of her husband Edgar. Revealingly, upon delivering a Thanksgiving meal to an A.L.S. patient, Ms. Rivers — clearly moved — promises to visit her website and follows through later that day.

The comedienne’s wholehearted embrace of the project gives it an intimate feel, sprinkled with small moments and revelations that shed a new, compelling light on the icon. The documentary challenges all preconceptions, illuminating the old soul behind the surgical mask and predilection for crassness. As Ms. Rivers’ friends, colleagues and loved ones fade away, drifting off into the sunset of their twilight years, the trailblazer remains, still lighting up rooms and looking for the next best way to entertain the world.


Opens on June 11 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg; written by Ms. Stern; director of photography, Charles Miller; edited by Penelope Falk; music by Paul Brill; produced by Ms. Stern, Seth Keal and Ms. Sundberg; released by IFC Films. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. This film is rated R.


Joan showed herself for what she truly is on the big screen, she laid it all out in front of us. I was truly impressed by her honesty

Really enjoyed Joan’s movie, she steps out of her comfort zone for us. Thank you Joan

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