I admit before going to see this documentary I knew almost nothing about Joan Rivers. Well I had some vague sense of her being the poster woman (poster child seems too ridiculous when she has just turned 75) for plastic surgery. I'm not even exactly sure why I picked this film from the long list of possibilities at Sydney Film Festival. It could be that I happened to be free on that night, or that I felt I should be seeing more documentaries, but actually I think I was also genuinely curious to know more about Joan Rivers. Who is she really? And this film goes a long to answering that question.
Directed confidently by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, this fly on the wall style film, follows Joan for more than a year. This in itself must have been a massive undertaking. The final finished product is 82 minutes so think how much footage must have been left out after a year's worth of shooting. What they have chosen to leave in is well worth watching. Joan Rivers is surprisingly engaging and really rather interesting. We find out a little of her history, for instance that she was something a trail blazer for woman in the male dominated world of 1950s/60s stand up comedy. That she unashamedly swears like a sailor. That she works extremely hard for everything she has. You even get to see her without her make up, something she tells us very few people ever get to see. Until now anyway.
As with people who have lived a long life it wasn't all roses and laughter for Joan. Her husband suffered from depression and killed himself leaving her to raise their teenage daughter by alone. She is philosophical about it now, although obviously after a lot of therapy. The dark times seem to have informed her wry, witty view of the world, as is so often the case with comics past and present. Go on check out this piece of work.