An inconvenient woman

Posted on 21 Jun 2010 at 9:26pm

Rivers leaves no turn unstoned in frank, funny but standard-issue doc

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

JOAN DARK | Rivers does wrestle with demons; she just turns them into jokes in her act.

3 out of 5 Stars
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
Joan Rivers. Rated R. 90 mins. Opens today at the
Magnolia Theater and the
Angelika Film Center Plano.

Joan Rivers is both an enigma and exactly what she seems: A foul-mouthed comedian who has made a career pushing buttons and causing controversy without consideration for decorum. But then again, what drives her to “be that guy”? Is there something deeper, other than the quest for immortality and applause and approval?

We never quite learn the answer to that in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, a documentary culled from following Rivers around for a year or so around the time she won Celebrity Apprentice. Sure, we learn of the pain of her rift with Johnny Carson and the suicide of her husband and her fragile ego and her feelings about never being a critics’ darling.

But how did she make the leap to her brand of truth-telling? Does she have limits? Like getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop, we may never know.

What we do know from the documentary, though, can be fabulously entertaining. Rivers is upfront about her addiction to plastic surgery (although she avoids talking about her now-catlike appearance); she walks us through her joke file (and shares crass ones about Michelle Obama and Nazis); she tells us what current comedians she considers “brilliant” (Maher, Shandling, Tomlin); explains why she loves anal; and how she gives Kathy competition as champion of the gays. (“What’s the gay community like here?” she asks a cabbie in rural Wisconsin. “I don’t know,” responds her driver suspiciously. “Ask your wife’s brother,” she snaps back.)

There’s also the curiosity of seeing classic video of Rivers doing standup 40 years ago … and realizing that what was considered racy then seems Disney Channel tame by today’s standards.

Yet Joan remains endlessly fascinating. She’s a money, fame and attention whore who shouts down hecklers and takes no prisoners. “Can we talk?” she used to ask rhetorically.

I don’t know about “we.” But can she ever.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010

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