Can she talk?
IJoan Rivers: A Piece of Work, portrait of a comic icon, CCA Cinematheque, 3.5 chiles Joan Rivers — who turned 77 this spring — doesn’t have to search for the spotlight anymore. It follows her wherever she goes. Case in point: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, a delightfully insightful documentary by filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg that lets Rivers tell her own story.
I grew up with Rivers — in the sense that I saw her on television as she made a name for herself on the comedy circuit in the late 1960s and 1970s, particularly on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. I found her amusing but never became a fan, partially because she seemed oddly distant as a performer — someone who worked overtime to keep the mask of comedy on.
But I grew to like and admire Rivers as I watched this documentary about a woman who insists that she is an actress playing the part of a comedienne. “Comedy — never!” she explains as she recalls her youthful desire to be taken seriously as a stage actress. She remembers an early theatergoing experience of seeing Paul Robeson play Othello when she was just 6 years old and thinking, This is where I belong.
The filmmakers and their camera follow Rivers as her 75th birthday approaches. She has a new play in the works as we first encounter her, a one-woman autobiographical show called