Love her or hate her, one thing's for sure: Joan Rivers ain't going nowhere soon. At seventy-seven years young, the wise-crackin' comedic legend will work until she drops, and still laugh about it afterwards. In her deeply personal documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, audiences get a rare peak into her world--from her relationship with her daughter Melissa to the nostalgia of her rise to fame, the hustle of booking gigs and the moments when they're few and far between.
Even though the tough times, Rivers battles a male and youth-dominated industry with a thick sheet of armor and a quick, sharp tongue. Shattering the stereotype of the dainty female, Rivers takes us back to the 60s and 70s when it took folks a long time to embrace her brand of humor, especially in the 70s when she was considered crass and unladylike (and she still sometimes challenges that opinion today). Cracking jokes about such controversial topics as abortion, suicide and sex drove many people away, but also gained a fierce respect from her audience, as well as her peers. She paved the way for similar comediennes today, like Kathy Griffin. Though she hates when people say "paved;" it implies that she's no longer doing any more paving, which is clearly inaccurate. But even more than that, Rivers also pays homage to those comediennes she looked up to who came before her Phyllis Diller, those who didn't get their due.
Aside from her often manic approach to her work, taking any and every offer for face-time (including her victorious stint on Celebrity Apprentice), we get the softer side of Joan Rivers. We follow her as she does her annual charity bringing gifts to the needy every Thanksgiving (with grandson Cooper in tow). We're with her when she fights back tears as she reads more harsh reviews, this time about her stage play "The Joan Rivers Theatre Project." We're with her as she nervously prepares for her 2009 roast, bracing herself for the inevitable jabs at her obsessive plastic surgery and her age. But through all the jokes, Rivers has gone through her toughest times with laughs, even when she was grieving over the suicide of her husband producer Edgar Rosenberg. Because, as she would say, you've got to at least laugh about it. You can't let the tears take over all the time.
A Piece of Work is a refreshing look at a reluctant legend, one who's still using all her might to break barriers for the rest of us to get a real kick out of. With this piece of work, she may finally get the respect she deserves.
Reel Talk: B+