Review: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work DVD

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work DVD boxSTUDIO: IFC/MPI | DIRECTOR: Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
RELEASE DATE: 12/14/10 | PRICE: DVD $27.98, Blu-ray $34.98
BONUSES: commentary, deleted scenes, Sundance Film Fest Q&A
SPECS: R | 84 min. | Documentary | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work finds the veteran comedienne unabashedly forthright and proud of the hard work she has dedicated — and continues to dedicate — to her 40-year-plus career.

Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (The Trials of Darryl Hunt) travelled alongside Ms. Rivers over the course of 2009, recording all they saw and interviewing her en route. The eventful year found her launching a tepidly received one-woman show in Edinburgh, appearing on TV’s The Apprentice, being roasted roughly by Comedy Central and doing her darnedest to wangle gigs — any gigs — to keep her in the luxurious life she has come to expect over the years.

The film offers the requisite vintage clips of Ms. Rivers’ rise from a ground-breaking club comic in the early 1960s, up through her The Tonight Show and QVC triumphs and years as a red carpet stalker. But the documentary’s primary concern is with Rivers today, which one assumes is the way she wanted it.

Though A Piece of Work smartly doesn’t push us to sympathize with Ms. Rivers (or aggrandize her, for that matter), the film does fairly cover both the celebratory and sad aspects of her life and chosen profession. Ms. Rivers’ plastic surgery obsessions are discussed (she insists that it’s necessary to survive in her “young” business), as are her fractured relationships with her daughter and management.

So too is the film attentive to Rivers’ persistence, pride, energy and, most importantly, talent. During one stand-up performance far off Wisconsin, Ms. Rivers is heckled by an audience member after making a Helen Keller joke. Her handling of the heckler is at once funny, angry, assured and vulgar — it perfectly encapsulates her essence, as well as her instinct for survival, both on- and off-stage.

Among the bonus features on the DVD are a group of deleted scenes, including a cute one that finds the performer fawning over her beloved dogs. She’s also on-hand for a commentary track if you just can’t get enough.

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.