From the GATW Archives: Sundance 2010 Review: JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK


Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on January 28.

Rating: 4/5

DirectorsRicki Stern and Anne Sundberg

Joan Rivers is a piece of work. At 75, she’s still one of the hardest working comedians today. While doing a roundtable with her yesterday for her new film, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK, she was asked if she was intimidated by the young and up-and-coming female comedians. She simply responded, “I’m not done yet.” She’s courageous, her stand-up boldly goes where most comedians won’t, and she’s the first to stand up and say plastic surgery is one of the best decisions she’s ever made. There is one thing though that she fears though, and that’s an empty calendar.

In A PIECE OF WORK, filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK) capture Joan’s 75th year of life. It’s interesting, it’s funny, it’s heartfelt, and it’s heartbreaking. In this year, Joan struggles to make money, but she doesn’t give up. Even with younger, funnier, and more talented people snagging jobs she’d easily do, she won’t stop until she gets that last punchline in. She’s doing stand-up at shitty bars (she even makes a joke about a chair seat being duct-taped together) and sells jewelry on infomercials. What happened to the glamorous Joan we’ve all come to love (or hate)?

This delicious documentary did teach me about one of Joan’s most important assets, and that’s her dirty, dirty mouth. She’s one of the most disgusting, gross, and hilarious people I have ever watched on screen. Here’s one of the many quotes she said in the film that absolutely blew my mind - “My vagina farts so loud, my gynecologist has to wear ear plugs.” Holy shit, right? I thought the same thing. The woman has no boundaries.

Jaw-dropping hilarity aside, this documentary admirably recounts the major upsets in Joan’s life. Did you know Johnny Carson discovered Joan, only to blacklist her a few years later? I sure didn’t. Joan’s mouth got so popular on the Carson show that she would randomly host it herself. Then another television station asked her if she wanted her own show. She took it, and was forever banished from NBC. Of course there’s always two sides to a story, and since we’ll never see the other side of that, it’s obvious the banishment boiled down to one thing - competition.

Another depressing moment in Joan’s life that PIECE OF WORK covers is the unfortunate suicide of her late husband, and daughter Melissa’s father, Edgar Rosenberg. Shortly after Joan took on her own show, ratings didn’t do as planned and it was canceled; one of the stress factors that contributed to Rosenberg’s death. This segment is respectful and just focuses on Joan recalling what happened. She tears up and I teared up with her.

In the end, Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg did a classy job capturing one of the most famous divas on TV. From the introduction until the credits, boredom never struck once. See this film and remember, Joan Rivers ain’t going anywhere.