Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
33 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
A very complex individual
jlg3103 October 2010
The problem I usually have with documentaries is that, while I find them enlightening, I rarely connect to them on an emotional level. My intellect is stimulated, but I don't usually feel anything. The last documentary that made me feel anything was "Sicko." "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" succeeds in the same way. Here's a woman who is a bit of a joke and an easy Hollywood punching bag. But she shows herself to be quite a complex individual. She's of course funny and a workaholic. She's also quite vulnerable and doesn't take criticism well at all. At times, she's quite likable and very sympathetic. Other times, she seems twisted and self-absorbed. I suppose the real Rivers is a little of both. She's also a joy to spend 90 minutes in a theater with, should the opportunity present itself to you.

The film opens with a shot that tells you everything you need to know about this film and its intentions. The shot is an extreme close-up of Rivers without any makeup on. For someone so presumably consumed with her looks, this is a surprising image that tells you this film is going to show you the real Rivers. Like her or not (and many won't), this is her.

The rest of the film is loosely broken up into three sections. The first introduces us to the woman and follows Rivers as she develops an autobiographical play and performs it in the UK. The second follows her during her time on "The Celebrity Apprentice." And the final one shows her on the road across America doing comedy shows. Interspersed with these segments are sidebars about Rivers' past—her marriage, her time with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," her relationship with her daughter Melissa, and her annual Thanksgiving charity work.

The two biggest things I took away from the film are that Rivers is obsessive (desperate?) about working and that she is incredibly insecure—perhaps the two complement each other. At one point, she is trying to book a commercial. She tells the ad agency's representative that she'll wear diapers, anything, to land a gig. After seeing this film, I believe she would. She's also incredibly self-doubting. When her play opens in London to good, not great, reviews, she immediately decides it won't see the light of day in New York. She says she wouldn't be able to bear the criticism. And when she agrees to do a Comedy Central roast—well, let's just say, it's not pretty.

One of the most enlightening, and in some ways off-putting, scenes in the film is when she gets heckled at a show in rural Wisconsin. Rivers makes a joke about hating kids but thinking Helen Keller would be tolerable, and a man yells that he thinks she isn't funny, but mean-spirited. Rivers lays into him. She doesn't hold back at all, and while I hold the belief that comedians should be able to defend themselves as they see fit against hecklers, her expletive-laden tirade crossed a few lines. What was so telling about this scene, though, was just how insecure Rivers is. When one man, a nobody in her life, criticizes her, she viciously lashes out.

I really did find this film fascinating for just how complicated it made its star seem. In addition to that, it's also quite funny. Rivers hasn't lost much in 75 years. I'd argue that her best bits are the more recent ones. Most documentaries are intellectual exercises, but not this one. It felt refreshing—not at all like sitting through a lecture. I wasn't a fan of Rivers before. I'm not sure I'm a fan of Rivers now. But a can definitely say I'm a fan of "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," and I would recommend it to just about anyone.
19 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Brilliant and Outrageous
clg23819 June 2010
After seeing the trailer, my expectations were moderately high. The movie far exceeds them. It is screamingly funny (Joan Rivers is screamingly funny) and poignant as well. I am partial to people who have a passion and work their hearts out; Joan Rivers exemplifies this. As a writer who's seen ups and downs, I found her up-and-down trajectory inspirational. The humor is often raunchy and always hilarious. Because she cannot do her best jokes on television, I found the movie broadened my perspective on what she is able to do (a lot!). If you've ever liked her jokes, definitely go see this movie. While it's true that the film maker could have dug a bit deeper into some of the darker subjects, I think that would have drastically changed the amazing balance between comedy and seriousness for the worse. A lot is conveyed without belaboring the difficult issues. Although Joan Rivers was virtually in every frame (a few exceptions where some people spoke about her), I never tired of seeing and, especially, hearing her. She has a store of funny and the ability to tap into it, whatever else is happening.
21 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
a piece of (hard!) work
brian-wiz30 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Also located at my blog (with many more!), Awards Wiz! (

A piece of work--an obvious double meaning, right? Referring to the plastic surgery, but also to her brashness. I would go a step further and say the title refers to her incredible career and work ethic.

"In order to get struck by lightning, you have to stand in the rain."

While this movie affected me on so many levels, it is this quote near the end of the film spoken by Rivers's agent that sticks with me most. It reminded me of every crossroad I have ever reached when times were difficult and decisions had to be made. There are so many chances to give up because it not easy to stay on the path. Rivers shows us what it really takes to not only "make it" but stay in this biz called show. What does it really take? In one scene Rivers tells her daughter that being an actor/performer is about rejection. So many people would give up and come in out of the rain. But there are the handful of people who stay out long enough to get hit by lightning...once. Then there are people like Joan Rivers. She gets hit, but then she goes inside when the rain stops only to venture back out the moment the first drop falls to do it all over again.

This film has been floating around since the Sundance Film Festival, and I have heard and read a few interviews with Rivers discussing the film. So, I knew the movie was going to strip away the public persona of Rivers as the joke of a poster woman for plastic surgery. But I was still unprepared to see her in this manner. And not just the vulnerability factor. I had no idea how hard she works, how persistent she is, and how much acting REALLY means to her. This lack of knowledge is partly because my generation knows her mostly from her red carpet appearances. Needless to say that part of her career is a torrential downpour, if you know what I mean. Honestly though, how many times have we seen her lacking her JOAN RIVERS persona-- whether on E!, TV Guide or even The Tonight Show? Almost never. And why should we, Joan might ask. What we see is Joan at work. There is really no reason for us to see anything else. Thank goodness that this doc actually gave us one. And the best parts are when she is on the road!

When Rivers goes to small town America to do her act, she is obviously slumming compared to what she is used to at home in NYC. But she never really complains, outside of a joke. At least not until a patron at the act heckles her. And it's less complaining and more defending what she loves--her art and what she feels should be clear to everyone. If you can't laugh at the bad you are in a hell of a lot of trouble. And in that moment she keeps going, strong as ever. She is one professional who simply can't quit, partly because she isn't ready to give up her fabulous lifestyle, and partly due to the fact that she hasn't run out of things to say. But mostly (I think) because she absolutely loves it.

We obviously have a great subject, but in lesser hands this film wouldn't be what it is. Never once did I even wonder where the film was headed and I never once wandered in any way off the path the Stern and Sundberg set for me. I simply watched a bit of perfect organic storytelling. Even the jokes are so impeccably placed it wasn't until I burst into laughter, then hearing my fellow audience members also laugh (yes, just like her shows there were a few groans of uncomfortable-ness) that I was taken out of that blissful life-forgetting trance that I strive for in the cinema.

The brilliant storytelling doesn't stop with her work ethic. We also get to see much deeper into her relationship with her daughter, told in such a simple way in just a few scenes thanks to their stint on Celebrity Apprentice (one in a car on the way to the first day on set and another in a hallway after Joan apparently (we don't see the actual event) shuts down at a cast meet and greet.) I almost cringed at the mention of Celebrity Apprentice, but I stuck with it...for Joan...because I know she had to stick with it. It was a job she needed to take for so many reasons, which you will discover watching the film yourself. The biggest reason was one she didn't seem to even grasp...winning! (lightning!)

The big question is (at least for me...and this site!) how long the lightning storm will last. She talks about how the critics never really embrace her. But they certainly have with this film. Now...will the Academy embrace her? In the documentary category, celebrity docs (The September Issue, Tyson, Valentino: The Last Emperor) don't do so well. Heck. They don't even get nominated. But the Academy loves a comeback. And although Joan might say, "what comeback? I never went anywhere," in terms of acceptance, it is one. I am personally tired of every documentary nominated being a stroll down misery lane. This film deserves (at least at the year's halfway point) a nomination. But...if she gets the nomination, won't that diminish the subject of the film?

Who gives a f#$*. Nominate the c&^#!
9 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Incredible documentary
preppy-321 June 2010
A documentary that followed Joan Rivers for an entire year when she turned 75. She talks directly to the camera and opens up about her life, her job, her family and what makes her tick. I should admit that I love Rivers! Her jokes are mean but hysterical. Seeing her here she comes across as insecure and a workaholic...but you don't pity her and she doesn't ask you too. She just wants us to see her as she really is. What was really surprising was seeing her with her daughter Melissa. Melissa comes off as cold and unfeeling--NOT the image she ever gave before. Also there is footage of Rivers on stage. Her act is incredibly profane--but hysterical! My audience would gasp and then break up at her lines. An excellent documentary of a very complex woman. A 10 all the way!
14 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work - 9/10
jnguyen4611716 December 2010
I was surprised of the movie not being recognized by the Academy of Documentary. I guess they don't want anything to do with Joan Rivers, and that's the whole point of the documentary. The doc started out with Joan Rivers' lowpoint of her career (when she's already 70 years old), and it progresses with Rivers working her way up again. The film demonstrates how the once comedic icon and well known star turned into "a piece of work". With her comedic talents blending with her sad emotions, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a snub that the Academy missed out on. OscarBuzz: NONE, that's the point! The Academy is missing out a a great film that shows the love for Joan Rivers and her career. She may be the one 70 year-old that still loves and wants to do her job.
8 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An uneven but unblinking look at an icon - worth seeking out
eschetic-220 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I was sorting through some old memorabilia this weekend and stumbled across some stuff saved from a show I reviewed at the National Theatre in D.C. while I was in law school - the embarrassing and justly long forgotten FUN CITY (Alex Cohen produced it in New York for 16 previews and 9 official performances at the MUCH lamented Morosco Theatre, Jan. 2 - 8, 1972) - but it reminded me that I wanted to mention to the IMDb a funny/sad but undeniably fascinating documentary on the main co-star and co-author of the unlamented FUN CITY currently running in New York, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (directed by Riki Stern and Anne Sunberg best known 'till now for their previous film festival success).

The documentary follows Rivers for a year in her recent life during which she maintained as much of a non-stop work schedule as she could (undercutting the value of her commercial endorsements by openly saying she'd shill for anything for a buck), dealt with the never explained disappearance of her long time friend and manager, and attempted a run at the Edinburgh Festival (with great success) and in London of a supposedly autobiographical play (from the clips shown, it looks like every expense was spared from the British production) that she claimed to want to bring to New York - but was terrified of repeating her still painful experience in FUN CITY. Ironically, the film makers, while emphasizing how much Rivers cares about getting the respect she deserves as an actress, never MENTION her earlier stint as a replacement in Neil Simon's Broadway BOUND (as the mother) in which the critics fell all over themselves justly praising the lady, or her more recent stint in her own SALLY MARR AND HER ESCORTS which at least received respect (and a Tony Nomination) if not commercial success. (Rivers' acting has always been strongest in other people's work, having never learned the knack of writing a sustained narrative for all her sharp caustic wit in briefer or unstructured formats.)

While uneven in its story telling (the documentary raises many issues in Rivers' life and presents contradictory responses to them, from maintaining her extravagant home to her career choices and love affair with plastic surgery - in later life her unnatural dimples start to make her resemble the model for Wayland Flowers' alter-ego, "Madame" although at the same time she's one of the few personalities big enough to carry off the QVC costume jewelery she touts and looked great in throughout the film), the documentary does not shy away from some of the massive career missteps the lady has made. The failed Fox Talk Show which mentor Johnny Carson viewed as a betrayal and got her effectively banned from NBC for years front and center among them (her odd decision to go against much advice and appear on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" seems to have been mainly to get back on NBC). It also wisely includes a healthy sampling of her ongoing club work, reminding her fans why they were first drawn to the lady's razor sharp wit as a writer/performer. The sequence apparently intended to show Rivers' passion and pain where she deals with a heckler when delivering "edgy" material in a conservative venue goes on MUCH too long (especially since we are never allowed to hear the "joke"!) but over all we are given an 84 min. look at a comedy icon's public and private life (or as much as she's willing to share).

I suspect that outside major cities and "festivals," this will be a hard item to find even once it's released on video (in Manhattan in first release it's only in a couple places), but anyone who has heard of Joan Rivers will find it worth seeking out both for its comedy memories and its unblinking look inside a life in "the business." It's no panegyric; the film is a decidedly mixed look at this particular "Piece of Work," but it's still strongly recommended for what it is. It's nice to know the lady is still in there swinging.
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great, don't miss it
gymowner23 December 2010
Joan has always been my favorite female comic. I met her in the 60's,and again in the early 70's. She was performing in L.A., and my good friend, and now retired VP of Sasson, "at one time did her hair", had got us tickets at the "Little Club", where we were able to see her hone her craft. She is tired of being called a ground breaking female comic, as she mentioned, but she is that and more. I think she is more afraid of life, than death. She really shouldn't have to work as hard as she does, even though she loves it. She took a bad shot with her ex, who stepped in sxxx, when he met her. Bernie Madoff could have managed her money better. But she is a class act, a pro of the highest degree, born to do what she does. We are blessed to still have her around, and for my 2 cents, I hope she stays healthy and is around forever. She is like the Sinatra of what she does. Watch the film.
6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Honest, Oddly Poignant
crossbow010630 October 2010
I wouldn't call myself a fan per se, but I've always admired Joan Rivers for just saying what she feels. This documentary chronicles a year in her life, her 75th year, and is not a laugh riot by design. She goes into the relationship with her daughter Melissa, her late husband Edgar and her long time manager whom she has increasingly been unable to trust to be available for her. The poignancy is from the various parts of this film of her life as a working performer. There are times that she is not in demand and more than once states she will "take anything". Also, there is a failed play and a scene at a Wisconsin nightclub where she has a shouting match with a person who objects to one of her jokes. You don't go to a Joan Rivers show to hear sweetness, she has always been pointed and sometimes outrageous. Anyone who doesn't know her well can get some insight into her from this film, but this film is more for people who know about her and like/love her. I like her for being bold and for being a pioneer. I would recommend it to everyone who is even vaguely interested but just know it is not a full concert performance. It held my interest throughout.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
75 and still funny.
Blueghost19 July 2010
I just saw this film about an hour ago, and liked what I saw. I'm not a big Joan River's fan. In fact, I'm not one of her fans at all, but this film gave me a slice of her life at what for some is considered elderly.

Not for Joan. For her 75 is the new 40. Tell any active person of years and they'll tell you just that.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this movie. It was interesting, funny, and just kind of a pleasant watch. Joan works hard, has her causes, and does her best to remind the world that she's still alive and spewing some pretty risqué humor.

It's not a film I'd see again, but it's a film I'm glad I saw. It reminded me of a clique of show businesses that I think a lot of former production types would just assume avoid or watch from a distance as we setup lights and cameras. There's some infighting, some exposition of personal problems, all the usual "life of a star" kind of stuff that gets covered in these kinds of films.

Is her life inspirational? Sure. But it's also got a bit of the dramatic, and by that I don't mean in either her act or in this film. What I mean is that we have a huge variety of media outlets. The super-stardom of yesteryear where major outlets were fawned over and coveted are gone. Your local TV station and network affiliates are still there as well as the local movie houses, but the kind of controlled stardom that used to be governed by studio heads is no longer the simple exposure process that it once was.

But Joan hangs in there like a champ. In some ways she's still fighting for attention using classic tried and true practices. It seems to work for her, and her battle continues. But, in my opinion, it may be for naught as social media continues to diversify and allow more individuals to come in and create their own "stardom", so to speak.

Still, Joan plays the game by hitting the show circuit, including play houses, clubs, cruise liners, and even guest television appearances. She's alive and still entertaining, and will more than likely do so for many years to come.

Check it out.
8 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
This is a Fantastic Documentary
celticjunkie20 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I cannot believe Joan is over 75 years old and is still a relatively healthy, sharp, and current performer. I just adore her on E! Network's Fashion Police and I wanted to learn more about her, so I watched this documentary on DVD. I am impressed beyond words with her natural talent and work ethic. Although I am not a fan of the Botox and the plastic surgeries, I can see past them to view the funny but insecure genius beneath. The scene where Joan encounters the heckler was heartbreaking but she handled it correctly as a stand-up, and not as a parent. The crowd was paying for funny, not maudlin, and so Joan delivered, despite reservations afterward. I was surprised about her constant worry over money, not something I would have thought she'd be concerned about. (But, goodness, that apartment!) And the honesty over Edgar's suicide and her break with Johnny Carson made for some interesting moments as well. I highly recommend this film for anyone interested in either Joan or in the career of a stand-up comedian/actress.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
No. Not "A Piece Of Work" - More Like "A Piece Of Old, Dehydrated CRAP!"
strong-122-47888517 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The first major strike against this vile, narcissistic "piece of work" was clearly Joan Rivers' hideous, surgically reconstructed, 75-year-old face.

Boy, I'm tellin' ya - This real-life replica of a pure plastic-surgery horror-show gave me the worst case of heebie-jeebies that I've ever experienced. From start to finish, every time Joan's creepy, death-warmed-over face appeared on screen, my skin just crawled, like you wouldn't believe.

The second major strike against this "Phantom of the Opera" freakshow was Joan's whiny, arrogant attitude. After over 40 years in the business she firmly believed that, even now, the world just wasn't paying enough attention to her as the self-proclaimed "Royal-Highness of Comedy".

I mean, snippy, little Joan Rivers was so bloody convinced that she was "funny" personified that she actually had the gall to claim (more than once) that nobody, absolutely nobody, had the right to disagree with her on this all-important matter.

Rivers practically came right out and said "I am funny! And I don't allow anyone the freedom to think otherwise! 'Cause if they do, then they are just a fukken, kunt-licking nobody! - So, there!"... (Oh! Really!?)

The only really worthwhile moment in the entirety of this snivelling, self-loving, grate-on-your-nerves documentary took place during a live performance where Joan made a really lame "Helen Keller" joke and a fellow in the audience actually spoke right out and told Rivers that her joke wasn't funny. (Applause-Applause!)

Well, without missing a beat - Joan's immediate response to this dude's remark was the vile-mouthed delivery of such a hateful flurry of profanity (directed at this fellow) that it certainly proved to me what an utterly contemptible asshole-of-comedy that this 75-year-old relic-from-the-grave really was.

It really killed me that inside her immaculately clean & organized NYC dollhouse-of-an-apartment, Rivers stores (in neatly stacked cabinets) a vast, A-Z collection of jokes on file-cards. (Spare me, funny lady!)

All-in-all - I found Joan Rivers to be a completely hollow shell-of-a-woman who was so utterly consumed by her belief in her apparent "funniness" that she quickly became nothing but a pathetic, tiresome, old bore.

And, with that, I personally proclaim Joan Rivers to be so funny that, yes, you'll forget to laugh.
6 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A real look at a haunted comedian
bdgill1216 July 2011
Whatever your opinion of her may be, you cannot deny the universal fame of Joan Rivers. One of, if not the, most recognizable female comedian the world has to offer, Rivers had been thrusting herself into the spotlight for the better part of the 50 years. And whether a rabid fan, an adamant hater, or somewhere in between, everyone knows Joan. Her sharp wit and wickedly crass material have been overshadowed by her commitment to plastic surgery and unfortunate career choices but at the same time, you have to credit her for still having a career at all this far into the game. On the verge of turning 75, "Piece of Work" details the life and times of Rivers from the highs to the lows and her rise to budding superstar and fall to Indian casino bookings.

First of all it should be noted that I really wasn't interested in this movie. Obviously I love a good documentary but the thought of sitting through an hour and a half of Joan Rivers sounded only slightly less ominous than wearing Lady Gaga's famed meat suit into shark infested waters. My introduction to Joan Rivers came as a child when she appeared as an over-the-top makeup saleswoman in "The Muppets Take Manhattan," an appearance that left me shell-shocked for the last 25 years. That was enough for me. But when this doc popped up on my bi-weekly search for anything new worth watching on Netflix Instant, I figured it wouldn't hurt to add it to the queue even if I never watched it. (Note to movie studios: this is not the first time this has happened. Netflix Instant is a serious boon to your industry. Embrace it.) And then the weather and AT&T became allies and launched a dual-front attack against my house a couple of weeks ago, knocking out my cable while simultaneously making it impossible for me to leave my house. So when the Lady of the Box Office refused to be party to any of the movies I suggested (who doesn't want to have a "Star Wars" marathon on a snow day?!), we turned to "Piece of Work." Secondly, I was completely taken aback by how compelling I found this documentary to be. It provides not only a look at a comedian's creative process but also an insight into crippling insecurity. The preparation that this woman puts into her craft (comedy) and the seriousness with which she approaches it are remarkable. A wall full of card catalogues house a record of every joke Rivers has ever told and I found her editing methods to be fascinating. At the same time, the need for approval, for fame, for love (essentially) is the overwhelming message of the film. In many ways, Rivers has carved out for herself a remarkable legacy and yet all she can focus on are the rejections and the fragile state of her acting career. It's heart breaking, really, to listen to Rivers as she delves into the depths of her lack of overall confidence, something you'd never pick up for her act. "Piece of Work" also displays a strong if understated caring side to Rivers, particularly in scenes describing her kindness toward past and present employees and the continual badgering of her daughter, Melissa, concerning her smoking. Of course, being the rough-around-the-edges person that she is, her concern comes across as condescending but for me, that made these moments all the more genuine. "Piece of Work" allows the audience to view Joan Rivers as a human when most in my generation have only known her as a caricature-like presence. That humanism is where the movie makes its mark, really, and what sets it apart from other celebrity bio-docs I've seen in the past.

My site:
4 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Is she real?
jdesando31 July 2010
Joan Rivers is asked, "Don't we want to be loved for our real self?" To which she tellingly replies, "What's the real self?"

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is not funny even though you'd expect a year in the life of one of the world's funniest ladies to be so. But it is as documentaries go one of the best ever: It is uncompromising in depicting how a 75 year-old icon is working every minute of her day, not to sharpen her craft necessarily, but rather to make money to keep up a lavish lifestyle best exemplified by her Versailles-like apartment in New York.

Truth is, however, that she likes what she does better than anything else, a workaholic who makes people laugh. In the process she is ribald, abrasive, bitchy, and irreverent, attributes she displayed almost 50 years ago, when highly educated ladies just didn't do that kind of thing. But from the Tonight show with Johnny Carson through Celebrity Apprentice, she has done it all in comedy while taking gigs from Wisconsin to Juno, all to stay alive in a profession that eats its young and discards its seniors every day.

When she says, "Let me show you what fear is" and explicates by revealing a blank appointment page, she is speaking for every worker in show business—most of whom face periods of inactivity regularly and bravely. Her fear of bombing with her act is almost as palpable and never more apparent than when she painfully puts down a heckler but suffers remorse for what it did to him, her audience, and of course her self confidence.

Yet the two most devastating events of her life, the suicide of husband Edgar and the ultimate rejection by Johnny Carson may have affected her most in 75 years. This doc is much more about suffering than laughter.

Rivers holds her acting talent above her comedic, a telling admission about the calculating, opportunistic foundation of her career, with comedy a mere avocation. Directors Riki Stern and Anne Sundberg skillfully keep the tension of uncertainty on Joan, as if the camera should be as close as possible to Joan's face to capture that actress's honesty.

"Actress" and "honesty" don't always go together, and they are in question here. How honest is any portrayal by a comic who keeps thousands of jokes on file and surgically alters her face as many times as she may change jewelry? On this topic, I remain skeptical; on the matter of this doc being successful deconstruction of show business's vagaries, it's a powerful work in progress.
5 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Queen of Mean
ldavis-29 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"A Piece of Work" begins with Joan Rivers looking like a refugee from "Night of the Living Dead" before tons of make-up transform her into something resembling a human being. This peek behind the pose may seem brave to some. To me, it confirmed that Rivers has turned herself into Leona Helmsley! A few more gos under the knife, she'll turn herself into Michael Jackson!

"A Piece of Work" actually has a lot to say about the nature of celebrity. Rivers has money and fame, but what she really wants is status, which is why she attends a Kennedy Center tribute to George Carlin, although, as she points out, the tribute represents everything Carlin was against, namely rich Republicans (yuk, yuk). That Carlin made millions off of his feigned disdain for the establishment is lost on Rivers. That you have to earn respect in order to get respect is lost on her, too.

Kathy Griffin prattles about how Rivers paved the way for her, but that's the extent of the props, which is telling yet not surprising. Like Helmsley, Rivers is an utterly unlikeable creature who makes Snooki look dignified. The tirade during one of her routines about her daughter nixing an offer to pose for Playboy made me want to wash my ears out with soap! Little wonder her manager bails on her every chance he gets, her staffers put up with her only because she pays them, and her daughter (a wanna-be A-lister herself) can't stand being in the same room with her for longer than five minutes. Only once, when she and her grandson (whom she seems to adore) visit an ailing photographer does Rivers seem to get that the world does not revolve around her. But maybe, that was just part of her act.
5 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Joan Rivers: rest in peace.
Quietb-118 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If you only see one Documentary this year...miss this one.

While it's well made, and skillfully edited, (place cutting joke here) how much time do you want to spend with Joan Rivers? Like a shark that has to move through the water or die, she has to work or perish. The main thing you get, anyone who can stay in Joan Rivers's life deserves combat pay. The Johnny Carson impact on her life was interesting. There are some laughs. The footage with her grandson was touching.

It often feels repetitive and drags at times. It could be shorter. "The Celebrity Apprentice" footage especially with her daughter would not be missed. With so many more interesting people and issues in the world a star on Hollywood Boulevard is enough and perhaps more appropriate then a documentary.
9 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Sunset on Rivers Boulevard
ptb-821 October 2010
There are two laughs in this documentary about funny-girl Joan Rivers. The Michelle Obama joke and I can't remember the other. Somewhere between self absorbed pity fuel-ling a license to insult and a need to please is this quite wonderful witty woman who can't spell vagina but makes jokes about them. At 75 an looking like Barbie's grandma, Rivers verbal avalanche of scattergun jokes makes you yearn for the days of Harpo Marx and maybe then Groucho if you need to hear a joke later. She is like the unofficial rat pack gal sidekick of the 50s and 60s who hasn't yet realized the rat pack days and the Las Vegas laminex table comedy they thought was luxury showbiz is all sooooo last Century. She lives well as displayed in a hilarious tacky Manhattan apartment that looks like an explosion on the set of the 1936 ROMEO AND JULIET set at MGM, she signs a dozen checks with which she buys an image of generosity, she does meals on wheels and in the film's one truly moving moment pays tribute to Florence Fox, an innovative NY photographer now almost destitute. Maybe Joan could also slip her a few checks. I'd like to have seen Joan meet Mimi Weddell the NY fashionista who died in 2009 aged 94 and still going to auditions. Rivers really is not funny. She knows too that yelling obscenities is as passé as Don Rickles doing stand up at 88. Somehow she is interesting no matter how hard she tries to prove how awful-funny she can be. A PIECE OF WORK is getting a good National release in Australia and the audience at a session I went to laughed occasionally. As we filed out most muttered how glad it wasn't one of her shows we are at since she really would have been in front of us. It was better she was just an image on a screen. I feel mean for writing some unpleasant reactions about her.. but it could be worse, I could make fun of her. Or is that what she prefers since it is what she does to everyone else including herself.....Basically it makes you yearn for Carol Channing or Lily Tomlin who really are funny and probably can spell vagina but do not need to.
5 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Funny but Obsessive
MikeyB179322 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
There are definitely some hilarious moments in here. Joan still packs a wallop at 75. Her humour at times is vulgar – but I don't have an issue with that (it's just a warning that the humour is adult oriented). She performs in a broad spectrum of places - from dumps to respectable. Her home in Manhattan is unbelievable – think of Marie Antoinette!! Certainly not a place to sprawl onto the couch!

After about an hour I did get tired of her self-obsessive focus. Why would an audience (except her adoring fans) be interested in a play in which she gives a self-history of her rise to fame? There is always a danger when an actor becomes overly self-centered on her legacy. I believe she has fallen into the trap of not looking outward.

Nevertheless Joan is hysterical, can laugh at herself and makes us laugh. .
3 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Johnny_West12 April 2019
For forty years, the untalented mega-hack kept on clinging on to the TV jobs. Whether she was interviewing people as they walked into an awards show, or talking about fashion in her living room, Joan Rivers was like that turd that sticks to the bottom of the shoe and cannot be washed off.

It took death to finally get her off E channel, and the other garbage cable shows that would use her.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Joan bares it all
moviemanMA4 January 2011
In Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg's documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, we get an up close and personal behind one of the hardest working woman in show-business. From her youthful aspirations to become an actress, we find out that comedy wasn't always priority number one on Joan's list. Comedy was a way to support her acting career. She later notes that you can make fun of her comedy career all you want, but leave her acting abilities alone. She even suggests that she is an actress playing a comedienne.

Following a successful appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, her career was and her "industry" was set in stone. There was no turning back. From performing her act in Vegas and her hosting of The Tonight Show for Johnny on numerous occasions. Her comedy was (and is) in your face. If a joke is thought to be too edgy, she knows she hit her mark.

I'll let you fill in the rest when you see the movie, but this isn't about where Joan has gone or the accomplishments she has achieved. It's about who Joan is today, how she is constantly looking to reinvent herself and stay fresh. Her unbridled enthusiasm for performing and staying busy. Her commitment to family and helping others.

In the film, we see Joan talking on the phone, looking for an endorsement deal. She says she'll speak for anything, including adult diapers and male enhancement drugs. She's not a sell out, but is willing to thrust herself upon the masses in order to get noticed. Through much of the film we see her working on a stage play, a sort of autobiographical play where she delves into what it's like to be Joan. Her concern isn't about whether or not people will like her, but whether or not they will accept her back into the mainstream. She is well aware that people view her as the poster child for plastic surgery. She is well aware that her age (75) is something that can hurt her to land a job. Does that stop her? It only strengthens her desire to succeed.

While some people will view this movie as a cry for attention, and I can see how they would feel this way. Joan lives a life of luxury, in a posh, elegant, and expensive apartment in New York City. Her need to live luxuriously and with all of the plastic surgery stems from her past where she never felt nor was never told she was beautiful. She needs this things in order to feel pretty, to feel like there is a reason to wake up.

That is not what this film is about. We are not meant to feel bad for someone who doesn't feel pretty. We are meant to see a woman who gives her all for her fans, whom she adores, and her family, that she cares for tremendously, especially her daughter and grandson. There is a brief moment where she sits down to write out a stack of checks, both for herself and also to others, like family members who attend private school and whatnot. She doesn't bat an eye at this stack, but breezes through them because she knows they must be paid for.

Her comedy might not be your cup of tea, but I think we can all learn something from this relentless woman. A life devoted to work and to family. What a piece of work. It's a shame that this film was left off the short list for Best Documentary for the Oscars. I hope you will all see it nonetheless.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Life Progressed
doctorsmoothlove20 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The opening vignette of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work features the then 75 year-old performer without any makeup. She tells us that she awakens every day and immediately applies her beauty products because, "no one wants an old woman". Joan indicates that her bodily alterations, including multiple plastic surgeries, are not simply out her own vanity but out of a desire to remain youthful. As she painfully indicates, the appearance of youth is necessary to remain relevant, or at least attempt to do so. Joan's observations on aging are among other aspects of her life that are examined in this comely documentary.

Joan is addicted to what has become her work: comedic entertainment. She did not desire this career, but no one takes her seriously as a non-comedic actress. She has accepted her role and incorporates it into her daily life in relentless pursuit of her business opportunities. As described by her staff and friends, her mania is incredible. She desires nearly every hour of every day to be occupied with stand up performances, book signings, or even TV shows. Joan is also remarkably organized and shows us her categorization process for jokes from each performance. Regardless of what she does, Joan seems to succeed in it.

Or so we thought. No, her life isn't a silicone fairy tale. Many slots remain unfulfilled on her calendar and her personality aggravates people. Joan has a unique combination of entitlement and obsession that causes her friends and even her own daughter to become frustrated with her. Perhaps her outrageous "door-opening" comedy over the last decades was a manifestation of this. If she was going to be funny, Joan had to be sure that people would remember her. And it wasn't because she was trying to be a revolutionary. Joan simply wanted and still wants more work opportunities. After half a century undermining herself (by being unable to do what she wants), shouldn't she at least be able to do it peacefully? Apparently not. As we are reminded several times, business is cyclical and sometimes it isn't there. Other times it is. Rivers' style of comedy is polarizing to the point where people are alienated by it. We see how it has been this way for decades, especially when she was younger, and raunchy humor was unspeakable. Today, Joan is still counterintuitive to political correctness, but the world is more tolerant to her humor. Originally, the fact that she was a woman speaking such vulgarity made it funnier. Nowadays, this same business specialty still exists, and it's even funnier because she's an old woman. In her words, "I'm still opening doors." The film's placing her within her real-life working environment is all the more satisfying.

River's life and character flaws make for an interesting story. A summation of her accomplishments and ironic role as a feminist figure would have been a fine subject for a documentary. We would still enjoy that kind of film. Yet, despite everything she has done, Joanie is still alive and still in your face. The filmmakers' recognition of her self-view allows them to rebuke our own pre-conceived opinions of both the woman herself and how we place her within history. As we get to know her as she now is, I can't think of a better way to document her life. The film is as emotional and funny as its subject. That triumph results in one of the best films of the year.

2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The movie felt like a work in progress
Laight1 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Joan Rivers has done a great deal of good for many female comedians. And what this doc shows is that more than anything, she has an iron will. At 75, she is still on the road and on the stage, and hopes to be for another twenty-five years. All very inspiring. But so what? The documentary itself doesn't go anywhere. We start admiring Rivers for her tenacity, and that's all we end up with. Worse, given her 30-40 year history on stage, there are only a few clips of the past. Most of the doc is Joan talking about herself and her will. We see some very sad clips of her terrified looking daughter, Melissa, and the movie barely touches down on the most interesting fact in the Rivers career--the fact that when her husband failed at producing her talk show, he killed himself. How can you make something like that seem like a footnote? This whole thing could have been a five-minute video set to Donna Summer's I Will Survive, and been a lot more fun. Because oddly, that was the one thing this doc totally missed--fun.
4 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Dancing as fast as she can . . .
The_Film_Cricket7 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In 1993, I sat in the audience for one of Joan Rivers' stand-up shows, seated way back in the nosebleed section – practically in the rafters – from my vantage point she was a tiny blur on the stage. Her voice, however, was not. It was loud, raspy, boisterous and unmistakably Joan. Her comedy was obscene, crude, vulgar, at times shocking but it was also unmercifully funny – you don't survive in comedy for forty years by being mediocre.

Joan Rivers died this week leaving behind a legacy that was as funny as it was groundbreaking. She wasn't dainty. She wasn't a lady in any traditional sense. She was loud and had a big mouth, and part of the reason for that is that her career blossomed at a time when women typically didn't do stand-up. Women in comedy mostly found themselves in situation comedies, mostly in the straight man role. In other words, she had a fight for it and she had to create a persona that would get everyone's attention.

It is reasonable to assume that the best way to experience a comedian is to see them on stage. That is the best way to experience their talent. In order to get under their skin, it takes a special kind of lens. For Joan Rivers, it was an extraordinary 2010 documentary called Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, a movie that not only exposed her talent but helps us understand who she was as a person. I didn't know Joan Rivers except in a few bits on television now and then. I never really understood the person under the boisterousness until I saw this film.

The film followed one year in the life of this living legend who, at 75, showed no signs of slowing down. Through a face rendered almost immobile by innumerable trips to the plastic surgeon she reminded us that she spent her life dancing as fast as she can, as if she was fearful that she would vanish. At her rapid pace, she never lost her edge. This despite a career and a life that wasn't always sunshine and roses. From failed marriages to banishment from "The Tonight Show", to health problems, to her husband's suicide, to a near-addiction to plastic surgery, you can imagine that a conglomeration of these experiences would bring anyone else to a nervous breakdown. Joan seemed to keep dancing in order to stay afloat.

What the movie reveals is a woman whose boisterous personality masked a great deal of insecurity. Early in the film she shows one of her date books from years past, filled with scheduled shows and many, many crossed-out appointments, some crowded onto the same day. "That's happiness," she says. Then she turns to a page full of empty dates and says seriously "That's fear. If my book ever looked like this, it would mean that nobody wants me, that nobody loved me." There is a painful truth in this scene, that somewhere buried under that brash personality was someone who needed her public life in an effort to feel needed.

Joan Rivers was a tireless worker, moving like a runaway train to remain at the top of her game even into her 80s. In the film, she goes through her overly decorated home where she shows us a joke file, set up like a library card system where she kept the jokes that popped into her head. She was determined to keep herself fresh and original. Early in the film we see one of her stand up routines. There she is, 75 and still loaded with boundless energy. There she is, crude and obscene, but there she is, full of energy and hysterically funny.

Rivers, who had been working in show business for more than four decades, established herself in the arena of stand-up comedy by discussing topics - tampons, sex, abortions - that women didn't discuss even in private. She was working in an extremely male dominated arena, doing material that even most of the men backed away from. During a clip of one of her early trips to Johnny Carson's show, the host suggests that men prefer intellectual women. "Oh please!" Joan says, "No man ever put his hand up a woman's skirt looking for a library card!" What I see in Joan Rivers, and what this documentary displays most honestly, is that comics are always needy. There's some discomfort inside of them to always keep themselves new and different for fear that they will become a has-been or worse stale and dated. Joan Rivers was a woman racing to stay ahead of the train. She created the persona of a loud, overbearing Jewish woman who spoke her mind. It was a persona that never left her. She is fearless and determined that she would never give up. Late in her life, her personality didn't change. What you could see was a woman who had lived a life that would have killed a lesser person. She was straightforward, and you got the idea that she had outlived and outfoxed all the games life plays. If life dealt her a bad hand, she didn't falter. She just grabbed the mike, and kept doing the thing that she did best.
2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An overlooked gem
gilligan-1113 February 2011
"A Piece of Work" is a very apt subtitle for this film, since it sums up rather succinctly the driving force behind Joan Rivers' career—she is a woman constantly on the lookout for her next piece of work. Perpetually aware of just how difficult it is to hit a moving target, Rivers never seems to slow down. At the age of 75, she keep herself busier than many working actors/comedians 1/3 her age. Ricki Stern's film chronicles Rivers' career, from her beginnings on "The Tonight Show" through her stint as permanent guest host, her devastating decision to leave that show for her own talk show (a decision that created a rift between Rivers and Johnny Carson that never healed), her husband's suicide, and her struggle to recover from it both personally and professionally. Rivers' daughter Melissa is of course a big part of this film, and her presence creates perhaps an unintentional stark contrast to Rivers herself. Joan is the consummate hard-working, smart, talented, honest professional entertainer, while her daughter, who claims to have chosen a career in show business, actually possesses little or no talent and has forged a "career" in entertainment simply by virtue of her status as Joan's daughter. If Melissa Rivers were not Joan's daughter, I doubt she would be able to find any work at all in the entertainment industry. Be that as it may, "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is a penetrating and entertaining documentary about the life and career of one of the funniest—if not THE funniest—women in the business.
2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A year-in-the life of Joan Rivers
ltlacey14 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This had to be one of the most interesting "famous person" documentaries I have watched in quite some time, and it was also one of the saddest, of any movie really, I have watched in a long time. I have seen Joan Rivers live, back in the 80s, and her shows, just like the woman herself, are outrageous, honest, and to the point, hiding what is obviously a very insecure, unhappy woman. And this movie shows us just how insecure and unhappy Joan Rivers truly is. Was she always this way? In this movie she makes it a point, and numerous times, to state as much, as does her daughter, Melissa. Her work ethic is phenomenal, but you have to wonder if it was the work ethic that made her the way she is, or she wants to work so much to keep so busy she does not have time to think about how sad she is. Though maybe I have the psychology wrong here. Regardless, the movie held my interest the entire time, but like a lot of others, I would have liked more of her background and more detail of just how she got started, other than that she always thought of herself as an actress portraying a comedian. Well worth the time to watch this one, even if you do not like Rivers.
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Worth watching
mart-burton14 July 2011
Definitely worth watching if you like Joan Rivers. I think that Joan Rivers is a great comedienne for today. Joan has always pushed the envelope throughout her life. Her humor is as risqué as ever today – as you have probably seen on Fashion Police. The thing about Joan is that she has courage. She is at the edge of what is acceptable in the same way as Chris Rock used to push the edge of comedy. But Joan doesn't hold back for anyone. But Joan has a soft side. This movie takes you behind the stage performance to the real Joan. She looks after her staff who are loyal to her. She once said "I just want to be loved". She is astute and acerbic. She has no barriers, especially on herself. She knows that she sends herself up worse than anyone else. And ladies and gentlemen, that is Joan. She is sensitive. She is a lovely person. She works hard. And she will dish is out even worse to herself than she will to anyone else.
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed