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Regina Weinreich

Regina Weinreich

Posted: May 27, 2010 02:03 PM

A Career in Mid-Life: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

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Puh-leeze! Comedy icon Joan Rivers may be best known for dishing on the red carpet, or hawking her wares on QVC, her porcelain face, pressed to perfection, stretched over cheekbones, eyes frozen catlike, but from the first frame of this fine documentary by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, showing glaring close-ups of makeup applied to yes, porous lips, this film is the real deal, a chemical peel, if you will, to a survivor story.

For those of us of a certain age who grew up with Rivers, watching her brash and blue performances interwoven with footage from Johnny Carson, with whom she had a famous falling out, and key moments from a television career that goes back to the medium's beginnings, her story inspires.

One theme is loss, of her husband Edgar who committed suicide as her career flagged. "He abandoned us," says Rivers ruefully, exhibiting classic anger at his abrupt demise. Her agent Billy Sammeth, too, seems to have disappeared. Her take, the loss of someone with whom she could share references; now there's no one to say, do you remember the time when...?

Another theme is parenting. Daughter Melissa weighs in, showing surprising insight into her illustrious and difficult mom. And then there's the New York apartment decor: Marie Antoinette, if she had money, Rivers quips, and you see a whole lot of stuffed brocade.

Funny ladies Sarah Silverman, Rachel Dratch, actors Bob Balaban, Cady Huffman, Michael Stuhlbarg, theater stars Cheyenne Jackson, Tommy Tune, documentarians Barbara Kopple and Robert Richter, and many others sat rapt at Wednesday night's premiere at the Angelika, hosted by Elie and Rory Tahari, and enjoyed the gorgeous city views from their Soho penthouse. Peggy Siegal put her state-of-the-art polish on this party, with Rivers a woman akin to her own heart; Siegal once posted all her doctors' addresses to share the fyi on plastic surgery with friends.

At 76, Joan Rivers is looking toward a new television show co-starring her grandson Cooper, she said at her premiere, zippy, ageless, and resplendent in brass sequins, and wouldn't it be great to make a shidagh for Cooper with Miley Cyrus.

Maybe her life would be seen as tragic, if she weren't so funny: laughs are her prescription for longevity, although she deadpanned (pun intended), she might help the filmmakers more if she dies, you know, the last year of Joan Rivers. For a serious movie, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (to open June 11) offers laughs and more; hanging out with Joan is so entertaining.

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