Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

By Colleen Rowe

The 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was well produced in comparison to her life-long career struggle with pleasing the critics in the entertainment industry. It’s slightly heartbreaking to watch, especially with the turmoil of Rivers’ anxieties stressing herself thin and making her seem as if she was a woman who could not filter herself. There’s a fine line between anxiety that becomes a part of a persona and carelessly offending people for the sake of comedy.

Throughout the documentary, viewers can see Joan’s self-conscious side erupting between her acts. She was angry that not enough people were coming out to see her, and within the question of a possibly falling career, she seemed to always compare herself to Kathy Griffith. Joan Rivers knew that she was a comedy icon, and she demanded the respect that the entertainment world sometimes didn’t want to give her. Her acts were brash, sometimes condescending, and rude toward the individuals who came out to see her perform. As Rivers put it, “There’s always an adjective before my name and it’s never a nice adjective.”

It isn’t completely clear whether Joan Rivers’ caustic outbursts were completely subconscious, as her daughter, Melissa Rivers, mentions at one point of the documentary. It seems that there was a mixture of both subconscious outbursts and intentional metaphorical slayings, which Joan Rivers used to cut into people maliciously. What was heartbreaking about this documentary was the explanation of Rivers’ life. How she truly wanted to be an actor, but comedy was a niche that she fell into. Joan Rivers, a comedy icon was not only disrespected, but she was also respected for “paving the way” for women in comedy. This paradoxical understanding of Joan is the only understanding that there really is: she was a complicated woman. There’s nothing wrong with perfecting a persona, but the woman who Joan Rivers was when she wasn’t performing or acting was a nervous, caring mother with a lot of heart. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work shows the business within Joan Rivers and the personal fire within herself that fueled her verbal ammo.

The documentary itself really pulls out these complications and convinces viewers that Joan Rivers was struggling and, as she began to dwindle into an elderly age gap, her career began to suffer. The term “edgy” had taken a different spin in the entertainment world.  Is this documentary worth seeing? With such a complicated comedic force, this is for you to decide on your own.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was shown at the Gold Coast International Film Festival this past November

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