Rated R for language and sexual humor, 84 minutes
"Piece of Work:" Brilliant doc on a brilliant performer
Love her or hate her, you have to admire the energy and stamina of comedian and all-around funny lady Joan Rivers, 77-years young and still going strong. A ground-breaking comedian, a workaholic and a smart, brilliantly funny person on and off-stage, the new documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" follows Rivers for a year chronicling the ebb and flow of her career. As well known as she is, she takes work - any work - she can get whether it's "Celebrity Apprentice" or performing at a Wisconsin casino.
Ironically, even the filmmakers couldn't have predicted what happened during the filming of the documentary. As it opens, Rivers seems desperate for work and is truly frightened by the possibility of having an empty calendar. She appears on "Celebrity Apprentice" and lo and behold - ends up winning the thing - and transforms herself for another career resurgence. A happy ending but up until then, Rivers seemed to have peaked following her appearances on "The Tonight Show" and the downward spiral of her career after her own late-night TV show tanked that essentially killed her manager/husband, Edgar Rosenberg (he committed suicide after Joan's show was canceled) and nearly killed her career.
Yet Rivers, as "Piece of Work" effortlessly chronicles, is a survivor, with strength to carry on a career that has included other daytime talk shows, books, plays, jewelry, and TV red carpet host (ironically, it's the thing that seems to be missing the most from the documentary). Rivers has had a tough go of it, and much like other comedians, is surprisingly insecure and even reserved at times, but is also smart, tremendously irreverent and hilarious wherever she's at.
"Piece of Work" doesn't delve deeply into all facets of Rivers personality - there are things that could've been explored more (namely her relationship with her late husband and anything having to do with Annie Duke from "Celebrity Apprentice") - but it's full of funny clips from past and present. It shows Rivers pre-plastic surgery (and it is amazing to see what she's had done but she's also forthright about it) stand-up routines, which are still as funny as her current, profanity-laden routine.
I like the fact that "Piece of Work" doesn't just show a bunch of talking heads, though it's nice to see such names as Don Rickles and Kathy Griffin extol her work along with showing Joan's imperfections and problems (an issue with her manager). The best scene has Joan taking on a heckler in rare form, much of which can't be repeated here ("...it's comedy, you *****...").
However you feel about Rivers may be one thing, but one thing is for sure: she's the energizer bunny of comedians and she has no plans to slow down. Good thing for us, or we wouldn't have as much to laugh about. Joan Rivers is truly a "Piece of Work" and here's hoping we have many more years with you.