A lively year with Joan Rivers in A Piece of Work | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

A lively year with Joan Rivers in A Piece of Work 

Joan Rivers as herself

Photo by Charles Miller/ IFC Films

Joan Rivers as herself

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the new film by Full Frame mainstays Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback; The Trials of Darryl Hunt), is a brisk, nonstop funny look at a year in the life of Joan Rivers.

While it deals with the sad state of Rivers' career, the only depressing thing about it is the fact that it considers Kathy Griffin part of the sharp, pioneering comedian's legacy. As we see from Rivers' present-day standup act, and even more so from her everyday, minute-to-minute wisecracking, Rivers has still got it, and the true inheritors of her wit and innovation are Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman, smart comedians who continue to innovate, not corny show-biz trash talkers like Griffin.

In the year that Piece of Work encapsulates, Rivers bemoans her flimsy performance calendar, turns 75, works some stand-up gigs, shoots down a heckler (punctuating a profane rant with a hilarious one-liner) and wins Celebrity Apprentice. We meet the people close to her and watch her reaction and reminiscences as a significant member of her team disappears from her life.

Regrettably short on archival footage (undoubtedly due to rights or expense, no fault of the filmmakers), Piece of Work still manages to give a strong sense of Rivers' early personal and professional lives, a strong context to help the audience understand the present, with which the film is thankfully more concerned. Nothing arrives more dead onscreen than a film concerned solely with the past. Rivers does plenty of tearful reflecting for the camera, but never without a bit of incisive, self-deprecating humor. Even when she feels great after winning Celebrity Apprentice, she gets a jab in: It's not exactly the Oscars.

By way of recommendation, I should say that I had little interest in the film before seeing it. As Rivers makes sure to point out, she was a significant force in the world of comedy and late-night television before she became a red-carpet fashion sniper or a plastic surgery cautionary tale. I had seen some of her early work and liked it, but I was afraid Piece of Work would be a fawning attempt to set the record straight or a bland collection of talking heads testifying to how great Rivers is, or used to be.

In fact, the film is largely a verité-style portrait of Rivers with plenty of momentum—due in large part to the way its quick-witted, light-on-her feet subject keeps the action and the camera moving. Whether holding forth in her luxurious Manhattan apartment, riding in the back of one of many chauffeured cars or spraying down a hotel bathroom with Lysol, Rivers is spry, intelligent and unapologetically in love with being filmed.

With such a dynamic subject, it may seem like the filmmakers have little to do but press Record, and their admittedly flat, murky aesthetic doesn't do much to recommend their craftsmanship. But they have masterfully edited a year's worth of footage down to a tight 84 minutes, with no confusing ellipses during which a viewer can feel the time passing. We get a real sense of spending a year in this world, and the act of cutting Rivers' motor-mouth zingers together is akin to writing a monologue. Comedy is all about timing, and so is editing. Stern and Sundberg have nailed it on both counts.

Film Details

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Rated R · 84 min. · 2010
Official Site: www.ifcfilms.com/films/joan-rivers-a-piece-of-work
Director: Ricki Stern
Cast: Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers, Don Rickles and Kathy Griffin


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review

Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

The lobster is arbitrarily asinine, disjointed, and gratuitously violent towards both humans and former humans that "didn't make it." If …

by Marco_Polo on The Lobster Surreally Skewers Society’s Fear of Single People (Film Review)

The only peeople who murdered those boys were let off by an inexperienced prosecutor and hoodwinked judge. The facts are …

by Greg 1 on The West Memphis Three are free ... what about the real killer? (Film Review)

"Miles Ahead"... "opening Friday".... where? I'm having a tough time finding film times/locations on www.indyweek.com now. The …

by Tbone on Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis Film, Miles Ahead, Isn’t a Real Biopic—It’s Something Better (Film Review)

Actually, many evangelicals and other Christians would not agree with the notion that "if you are a true believer you …

by bsquizzato on Film Review: Christian Movie Miracles From Heaven Goes Where Secular Hollywood Won't (Film Review)


The lobster is arbitrarily asinine, disjointed, and gratuitously violent towards both humans and former humans that "didn't make it." If …

by Marco_Polo on The Lobster Surreally Skewers Society’s Fear of Single People (Film Review)

Most Read

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation