Review – Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

by James Olsen for FILMbutton

Detailing a year in her life, the audience follows Joan Rivers through a tumultuous time in her personal life, a downtime in her popularity as a stand-up comic, and into the stressful times of Celebrity Apprentice and putting on a play in the UK. As a workaholic, Joan is nothing, though, if not resilient. The need for money, while pressing at times, is never the driving force in her life so much as the need to keep busy, leading Joan to take any gig that comes along just so that she doesn’t have to stand still for too long.

Watching the highs and lows of her life behind the scenes, we are introduced to her close friends and colleagues who have supported her as the empire built around Joan has been built. Standing at her side, personal assistant Jocelyn Pickett has seen a lot and seems to know Joan almost as well as Joan knows herself. You believe in the power of these two women and know that if they can’t get out of a slump, then no one can. We also see one of her most trusted business associates becoming increasingly hard to reach, which is especially difficult as he is also the person around her that has known Joan the longest. Through these people, we see the loving friend, supportive employer, and fierce businesswoman that Joan is.

Throughout the film, we see clips of Joan’s stand-up, which leaves you wondering why anyone as brilliant and funny as her would ever have any difficulty booking shows. She mentions losing out on jobs to Kathy Griffin, but refuses to even consider giving up her crown as Queen of Comedy without a fight, and Joan still has a lot of fight in her. This is especially evident when she goes up against Annie Duke on Celebrity Apprentice. You almost feel sorry for Annie, who brought Joan’s wrath upon herself, who has to go up against a protective mother. The audience at this point knows that Annie has no chance in this battle.

Before her run on Apprentice, we see the one opponent that threatens to completely throw Joan off track: reviews. As she prepares for her run of Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by A Life in Progress, first in Edinburgh before moving on to London. She states that she can accept people saying that she’s not funny, but if someone were to say she can’t act, it would be devastating.

On stage, we see Joan as the take-no-prisoners comic, willing to make overzealous censors work overtime. While we love her comedy and ability to make us laugh, that persona can be an intimidating one. Now, we finally get to see the person behind the comedian, and when we see that human side, it just makes us love her all the more. With her revival from Celebrity Apprentice and now this film making the rounds, I like to think that her slump is over, the Queen has regained her stability, and hopefully that means many more shows to come. One can hope that also includes shows here in Canada.

James Olsen is an avid photographer who loves film, TV, music and just about anything in the arts. He hails from out East but calls Toronto his home.

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