At one point in this absolutely must-see movie Joan Rivers talks about rejection as a major narrative of being an artist and performer. I remember one of my early teachers at UVic saying how most of us in his first year class wouldn't even be making art in five years. In ten years only one or two of us would still be practicing art...and we were the ones who would have dealt with rejection more or less healthily. In a book by Charles Grodin, he says that the really sweet nice and gentle artists will quit and they were amazing artists, but didn't have the tough skin to keep on in the business. Put another way, the strength and dogged determination can make you seem like a bit of an asshole. For about 10 years my two girlfriends, Anita and Suzanne, and I did comedy workshops and performed in an improv group and spent a lot of time watching stand-up comics and hanging out with them...there is some truth to the idea that a clown is crying on the inside. I've spent most of my life hanging out with artists, musicians and performers and almost every one of them has three things in common, we can laugh at ourselves and handle risk...and rejection. You just have to get your head around it if you want to stay relatively sane and last the distance.
I just mention these personal notes because part of why I liked this movie so much is because of my personal experience at making work for the public and because of the struggle to write funny material is a challenge personally. But the excellence of this movie about Rivers does not depend on having any of my own experience...because...how many of us have struggled to do well at our jobs? To do well with our families to wrk at our own hobbies, or trying to say, make our homes or lives accomplish comfort or beauty, or make friendships? All of us have an universal experience of seeking a voice with our parents, our schools, our communities...and all of us have felt rejection.
Joan Rivers is incredible. She reminds me of both my grandmothers. They had the same kind of common sense cutting humour, mixed with a gut-level sense of decorum and manners. They even liked the same kind of grand decor....while laying it out straight about calling a snake a snake. They don't make women like that so much anymore. i have enjoyed her almost most of my life of watching comedy and tv...my daughter and I always loved her red carpet for the Oscars because she was gosh darn it hilarious. This documentary is excellent. Within minutes I felt moved to tears and emotion because of the tone of the movie. It is both beautifully tough, like Rivers and fall down funny, like Rivers. One of the moments I really enjoyed was something you can see for a minute in the trailer above. We see into Joan Rivers massive archives of her jokes. How many people know that comics keep logs of their jokes? Don't stand-ups seem like they are just telling us stories off the tops of their heads...in fact, it is part of their job requirement to not show us their sweat, to not show us their struggle and work ethic....the laughs often depend on us being caught off guard and reminded of something terribly funny that we ourselves couldn't verbalize...but that confident mouthy comic points out.
Joan Rivers reveals her insecurities, her losses, her triumphs and her sweat...and she is an animal! At one point a heckler yells at her and what follows is some of the most powerful footage I've ever seen on film.
In a time period where "outrage" and taking umbrage is a national sport...Joan Rivers reminds us to laugh for fucks sake and work hard. Our society is so worried about "being nice" its great to see someone actually be tough and tough talking and stand up against bullshit and misplaced sentimentality. Sometimes speaking our mind can be the most profound thing we can do...and be damn funny.
The movie is rated R and is for adults and it is exhilarating to see a hardworking 75 year old woman kick ass. Not for wimps. 10/10