search

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

A painfully funny documentary

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

The entirely entertaining documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" — the title is a punning reference to the disfiguring "work" she has had done to her face — is as revealing and inevitably incomplete as one might expect from a film about an insecure, self-absorbed celebrity wit who exposes herself onstage with sometimes shocking intimacy yet hides behind a surgical Kabuki mask.

The entirely entertaining documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" — the title is a punning reference to the disfiguring "work" she has had done to her face — is as revealing and inevitably incomplete as one might expect from a film about an insecure, self-absorbed celebrity wit who exposes herself onstage with sometimes shocking intimacy yet hides behind a surgical Kabuki mask.

Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg had surprising access to Rivers, following the comic and her "small industry" of managers, agents, personal assistants and others for much of the grueling and eventful year of 2008-09, when Rivers turned 75, debuted a new autobiographical play in Edinburgh and London, was the subject of a Comedy Central "roast" and continued to perform standup in clubs and theaters. "When I say, 'Where are the gays?,' they're gonna say, 'Dead -- we killed them,'" she comments while being driven to a remote casino date in snowy Wisconsin, in a typically barbed do-we-laugh- or-do-we- shudder Rivers quip. Later, at the casino, she faces down a heckler with a deaf child who objects to her Helen Keller joke. "Don't you tell me what's funny!" she shouts, answering that her mother was deaf. "Life is so mean," she says, and that phrase could be the slogan on the bumper sticker on her limousine, along with: "Anger fuels the comedy."

The "year in the life" context imposes a false narrative onto the material that culminates with the theoretical happy ending of Rivers' victory on the 2009 edition of NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," balanced by the sad note of the firing of Billy Sammeth, Rivers' longtime manager. (Sammeth is now suing the comic, claiming the film's depiction of him as an "absent" manager is defamatory and was contrived to add drama.) These subplots suggest that the film's unacknowledged true storyline is the coarsening and cheapening of popular show business itself. When Rivers was a Johnny Carson-anointed star comic in the 1960s, her fellow guest on "The Tonight Show" couch was as likely to be Gore Vidal as Soupy Sales. Now, a season of the same network's "Celebrity Apprentice" alongside Khloe Kardashian and Sandra Bullock betrayer Jesse James is supposed to represent some sort of career validation, and Rivers' stage act frequently panders to an audience trained by cable television standup programs to wildly applaud every F-bomb. In this context, each vintage clip of the young Rivers is a knockout. In one, Carson suggests men appreciate intelligent women. Rivers' quick response is apparently motivated by genuine disgust with male hypocrisy: "Oh, please — no man ever put his hand up a woman's dress looking for a library card."

— J. Beifuss, GoMemphis.com

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Sat October 2, 2010, 7:00 & 9:00; Sun October 3, 2010, 7:00 only, Muenzinger Auditorium

USA, 2010, English, Color, 84 min, R, 1.85:1

recommend

Tickets

10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.

Parking

Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.

RTD Bus

Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cover art for Spring 2 2022
Virtual titles to stream from home

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

Z-briefs
: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Sprocket Damage
: Sprocket Damage digs deep(ish) into current and classic films and film-related subjects to bring to you insightful, humorous, and enlightening perspectives on the industry.

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists