Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Published: May 25th 2010
in Culture » Movies

Joan Rivers
Pic: Break Thru Films

It’s taken more than 40 years for someone to realize that Joan Rivers would make an interesting documentary subject. The veteran Jewish comedian is often at the butt of every plastic surgery joke, and her accomplishments along with her work ethic are often overlooked.


Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work kicks off with close-up shots of Rivers – sans makeup. This makes it clear that the comedian has let her guard down.


The film, directed by Rick Stern and Anne Sunberg, focuses on a year in Rivers' life (the same year she joined the cast of Celebrity Apprentice). It helps that the comedian is, or at least seems, brutally honest throughout the documentary. She makes no attempt to mask the fact that she’s had her ups and downs. At the beginning of the film, she’s at a career down point.


A Piece of Work reveals quite lot about the 76-year-old comic. For example, out of all things, what she fears the most is blank agenda pages. The documentary also reveals that acting is Rivers’ true passion. She can take criticism of her comedy routines, but she becomes vulnerable when anyone criticizes her acting chops.


Often associated with her E! red carpet specials, Rivers’ career spans decades worth of standup comedy on top of her hosting gigs. She often brings up her Jewish roots. At one point, she makes a  joke about going through a Shiva for each strand of hair that falls out. The documentary really stresses her work as a standup comedian and her pioneer role in the field. But Rivers doesn’t want to be a comedy icon just yet. Nor does she want to hear that she’s opened doors for women in comedy. Why? The main reason is that she’s still doing comedy and hopes to continue opening doors for many years.


Different sides of Rivers are revealed as she interacts with different people in her life. While there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and dirty jokes, the movie also features touching moments, including scenes of Rivers and her grandson handing out meals and a scene where she recounts the death of her husband.


There are hardly any dull moments in A Piece of Work. That can be attributed partly to Rivers, who can’t stay long without making a joke, and partly to the editor. The film won the Documentary Film Editing Award at Sundance.


It’s a good thing that the movie focuses on a year of the comedian’s life. It actually helps with the pacing and makes for a more interesting movie. While there is enough background information for those who aren’t familiar with Rivers, the film doesn’t come off like a stereotypical documentary. 

Related articles: (Joan Rivers, documentary, A Piece of Work, Jewish comedy)
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