Saw the new Joan Rivers documentary last night and I have to say I love that gal. I love her foul mouth, I love her insane work ethic, I love how she is singlehandedly fighting society’s prejudice against age, I love her honesty, her hilarious self-abasement, her vulnerability, even her cosmetic surgery.
You may go into the movie thinking Joan Rivers is an over-the-hill has-been, a stereotypical old Jewish lady and a Michael Jackson-variety plastic-surgery freak.
But you come out seeing a woman who refuses to give up. And who is still very, very funny.
I found myself doing little Joan River schticks from the film all weekend for friends, all of the bits quite dirty, and I have to say it is hilarious to see a woman of 75 (her age when the movie was filmed) with the temerity to act like a 20-something bad boy of comedy. And why not? Where is it written that only skinny guys with black t-shirts and shaved heads get to be funny? I would repeat some of the bits here, but the bad words would attract all kinds of spam comments I don’t need. Go see it for yourself.
The movie also spoke to me on another level. It’s all about having something to sell in an insanely competitive entertainment market, where new and novel is always in favor. I felt very bitter this year when “Cars from a Marriage” failed to get any attention, except from my friends. “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” explores this theme in painful close-up. She’s jealous of Kathy Griffin. She’s furious at the critics. She can’t believe she has to take a “nightclub” gig at 4 o’clock in the afternoon in the Bronx. She has to endure endless old age and plastic surgery jokes at her Comedy Central roast. And then there’s her exquisitely painful rejection by Johnny Carson after she got her own show on Fox. (He never talked to her again and NBC blacklisted her for years). Very early in the movie, you see her walking down the stairs of a real dive, a place you can never imagine your own mother going. But Joan picks herself up, dusts herself off and reinvents herself over and over again. And you should hear her give it to a heckler who calls her on a politically-incorrect joke.
And the plastic surgery? It is a little Dorian Gray to see her cheeks plumped up and her hair styled like 80’s-era Melanie Griffith. (Melanie Griffith doesn’t even look like that anymore.) But Rivers explains: it’s just show business. Nobody wants to see an old lady and she’s still working.
Still working. Still foul-mouthed and able to shock you into laughing. And you’ll love the scenes of her as a comic ingenue in the 1960’s.