Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
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Actress, writer, stand-up comedienne, talk show host, spokesperson. In more than 40 years in the business, Joan Rivers has done it all. But now, well into her 70s, she’s still not ready to buy a condo in Florida and start playing cards with the girls at the senior center. Instead, she gets up every morning, hurries off to have her hair and makeup done, and spends the day rushing from book signings to photo shoots to meet-and-greets to appearances—from New York to Los Angeles to the middle of nowhere.

Driven by the need to stay relevant—and to support her lavish lifestyle—Rivers is constantly looking for new opportunities that will keep her calendar full and the checks coming in. So, in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, she takes advantage of another money-making, attention-grabbing opportunity: allowing a pair of documentary filmmakers to follow her around for a year, to capture the highs and lows of the comic legend’s life.

Starting with Joan’s 75th birthday, directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg follow Rivers through a whirlwind year—from the debut of her latest play, Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress, in London to her appearance on Celebrity Apprentice to her frequent stand-up performances. Rivers is constantly on the go—always pitching a new idea or trying out a new joke. It’s fascinating and inspiring—not to mention just plain exhausting—to see how tireless and determined she is.

Despite her age, Rivers is still brash and outspoken and shockingly funny—and her constant stream of one-liners will sometimes catch you off-guard. But A Piece of Work isn’t a comedy. Though she may joke about it, Rivers is deathly serious about her career. Even after more than 40 years of making people laugh, she still gets opening night jitters. She’s still extremely insecure about her work. And as she discusses her latest projects—and contemplates the open spaces in her calendar—she shows surprising vulnerability.

It’s a year of ups and downs for Joan—with glowing praise from fans balanced out by mediocre reviews from critics and on ongoing struggle with her increasingly unreliable manager. But that seems to be the story of her life—a story that’s told in short snippets throughout the film. Though the focus remains in the present, the past pops up from time to time—from her first TV appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show to her husband’s suicide.

Limos and furs and appearances aside, Joan’s life hasn’t always been easy. And, at times, you can see beyond the comic façade and the years of face lifts and Botox to a woman who spends every day fighting to stay on top, afraid of what will happen if she doesn’t—a woman who, after all these years, still just wants to be loved.

Like 2009’s Tyson, Joan Rivers: A Work of Art is a captivating documentary, offering surprising insight into the life of a legendary personality. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a curious outsider, it’s an intriguing look at life in the biz.

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