Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
Joan Rivers doesn't like Kathy Griffin. At least if you took her at her word ― her hilariously biting, mean, angry word ― you'd think that Rivers was furious at the flame-haired comedienne du jour. Of course, if you used Rivers' material as evidence, you'd think she doesn't like anyone (she says some shockingly filthy things about clinger-on daughter Melissa during stand-up gigs).

But that's just who Joan Rivers is: a pioneering comic who opened doors for women in comedy 40 years ago, who catalogues every joke she's ever written in giant file drawers and a compulsive workaholic who, at age 75 when this documentary was made, still frets over her next job and paycheque.

But as A Piece of Work ― which chronicles about a year of her working life, one in which she appeared on and won Celebrity Apprentice ― shows us, Rivers is still driven by insecurity that she's going to lose what she's built for herself, that her comedy legacy hasn't been properly honoured and that she'll be remembered more as a plastic surgery disaster than as one of the funniest women to ever grace a stage.

Two things in this documentary belay those assumptions: the film opens with a close-up on Rivers' face, without makeup, an unflattering moment that demonstrates her willingness to be open about her foibles. And her stand-up comedy, which she still practices a couple of times a week in small clubs in New York when she's not touring large venues, remains as cutting, as taboo-smashing and as shocking (for any age) as any curse-laden mic wielder currently pacing a stage.

As A Piece of Work explores, Rivers has lived through a tumultuous life: the suicide of her husband, a crushing feud with one-time friend and supporter Johnny Carson and some serious downturns in her comedic and career trajectories. And yet she's still working harder than almost anyone half her age, calling her daughter a "stupid cunt" and refusing to take shit from idiots who happily pay money for the privilege, just where she belongs. (eOne)