Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work Reviews

Page 1 of 30
Super Reviewer
October 8, 2014
In the wake of Joan Rivers' death, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding her legacy. Whether people are furious over her sometimes racist, misogynist, transphobic jokes, or happy to sing her praises for opening doors for female comedians, Joan Rivers has been a lot of things for a lot of people. This very eye opening and vulnerable portrayal of the comedy legend really leaves a lasting impression on you. While I didn't think the woman was completely invulnerable, I was unprepared for the stark contrast between her onstage persona and the woman seen in this documentary. Joan Rivers was giving, sweet hearted, and incredibly inappropriate in the best of ways. She took on a lot of stigma from her critics, she cared far too much about what people thought of her, and she was strong in the face of adversity and loss. As an entertainer, many people knew her and what she accomplished in life, but as a person no one really knew Joan like the people around her. This is a very good watch for those mourning, or who want to know the real Rivers, under the guise she donned.
Super Reviewer
September 12, 2014
A very compelling documentary that takes a good look at one year in the life of a workaholic diva of yore who was born to be in the spotlight, and it proves to be quite revealing not only about her need of stardom and recognition but also about show business itself.
Super Reviewer
July 14, 2012
This is a documentary that showcases a year in the life for comedian Joan Rivers. Follows her as she tries to get a Broadway show off the ground, continues her stand-up, and her appearance on Celebrity Apprentice. For a woman in her 70's she is very busy, and trying to remain as relevant as ever. At times she comes off as sincere and sweet, then she comes off very hypocritical. For example, she talks very dirty about some people, then says her feelings are hurt as she gets Roasted for comedy central. She's still very funny, and a polarizing figure in the entertainment world. I'm sure a lot of people can't stand her, and sometimes I can't, but here this is more interesting than entertaining. Seen a lot better documentaries, especially ones on comedians(watched one on Don Rickles a few years ago that was amazing), but if your a Rivers fan, then this is a must watch.
Super Reviewer
May 2, 2011
Wow, just wow. This movie is probably one of the most incisive, honest, painful, melancholic, roller coaster portraits of Hollywood and the woman chugging in its cogs that I've ever seen. That scene where she's taking off her makeup and the camera just focuses on her creasy, plasticized eyes gradually sagging, sagging, sagging - the light goes down and it is just magic.
Super Reviewer
March 31, 2011
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a very honest depiction of her life and career and of show business that really opens your eyes and shows you who Joan Rivers really is. It's a funny, sad and inspiring documentary that's a must see for anyone who wants to be in the entertainment industry.
Super Reviewer
March 14, 2011
I can honestly say I have never seen a documentary that probes this deeply into what stardom can do to a person. "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is a film that showcases a star at 75, dealing with her glorious past, her depressing present and her inevitablely uncertain future and looming death. If this sounds like depressing stuff, it is. While I loved that Joan was willing to probe the depths of her career and personal life (though it seems like she was not totally privy to the director's intentions) it would have been nice if the film let her be funnier. Joan is a very, very funny comedienne. Her comedy is still shaping the way women are perceived and it would have been nice if more of that was shown. It would have made the emotional aspects a bit easier to digest. As it stands, "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is a fine example of what being an aging celebrity in American is like- just don't expect anything extremely entertaining.
Super Reviewer
July 30, 2010
I just admire a woman that works harder than the Energizer Bunny! Joan gives a nice biography along with this behind the scenes view of her life. I hope she continues to make me laugh for years more!!
Super Reviewer
January 4, 2011
This is a sad, yet enlightening view into the life of one misunderstood woman! It's hilarious, pathetic and so entertaining all at the same time. I've never been a fan of Joan Rivers; but this piece of work has allowed me to see her in a whole new light.
Super Reviewer
½ January 3, 2011
Her obvious dislike for Kathy Griffin made me enjoy this doc more than I should have.
Nate Z.
Super Reviewer
½ December 24, 2010
There's a moment late in Joan River's somewhat biographical doc, where she's telling a random offensive joke at a comedy club, this time about Helen Keller. An irate audience member pipes up, "I have a deaf son," and chastises the 75-year-old comic of legend for the offense. She goes into a defensive position and argues that it is the point of comedy to make life bearable, even the horrors and pains that we know no other means to suffer through. This awkward moment of clarity sums up Rivers' life fairly well: tenacious, volatile, and genuine. She turns pain into inspiration. She's fought long and hard to get where she is in the comedy world and she will have to be dragged away kicking and screaming. When fans compliment her on being influential, Rivers tiffs that she's still influential and isn't ceding her spotlight for any young female comics. The documentary follows Rivers on a upswing in her career, notably winning a 2009 edition of Celebrity Apprentice. But this woman will work any gig no matter how small. She fears that if she stops she'll be forgotten. Part determination and part desperation, this standard documentary showcases the abrasive and dynamic personality of Joan Rivers (you even get to see that famously refined face without makeup).

Nate's Grade: B
Super Reviewer
November 10, 2010
Praised as revealing the real women behind the stage personae, however I found little evidence of that and felt it mainly succeeded in promoting Rivers. A true work-a-holic, it felt like a calculated plug for more work rather than exposing any but the most obvious comedy traits.
Super Reviewer
August 11, 2010
Like THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD with less plot, this documentary follows the geriatric workaholic commedienne through a year of working small nightclubs, celebrity roasts, and reality TV shows as she tries to get back into the public spotlight. Even if you don't like Joan's jokes and even if you don't like Joan herself, you find yourself pulling for her to succeed just because she's working so damn hard.
Super Reviewer
July 6, 2010
shakespeare already wrote the best review possible for this film, and the filmmakers knowingly include that fact as the title: "What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither..." an unforgettable slice of human life, in all its terrible glory, no matter how you slice it.
Super Reviewer
July 3, 2010
Documentary chronicles a year in the life of Joan Rivers, iconic comedian. Watch as she recounts the milestones in her life, deal with an irate heckler, fire a dear friend and struggles to remain relevant. Behind-the-scenes showbiz account is entertaining, to be sure, but a biography such as this, is most interesting when it's an exposť. Unfortunately, the revelations aren't very surprising. The fact that she's a workaholic and she unceasingly desires approval to a fault, isn't surprising. A person who treats plastic surgery like a visit to the hair salon or her nasty public falling-out with Johnny Carson are fascinating subjects only superficially addressed. The documentary is more about scheduling her next gig. Her drive to keep working is her all consuming passion, not dwelling on the past. In the end, the documentary won't make you like her any more and it won't make you like her any less. It just is, a decent testimonial to a woman who has been in show business for over 50 years.
Super Reviewer
June 21, 2010
Really interesting look at the ups and downs of a life in show biz. I was impressed by how much she put it all out there.
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
½ June 21, 2010
"Joan Rivers" A Piece of Work" is a fairly good documentary, but it doesn't cut very deep. The most significant thing I came away with was the realization that Ms. Rivers is still a great stand-up comic. This inspired me to get tickets to her June 24 gig in Manhattan (Gramercy Theater). Can't wait.

Rivers' talent is still formidable, but so are her psychological problems. She's just one step away from being as crazy as Michael Jackson. The mania for cosmetic surgery is only the most visible sign. When she talks about "success," which she is fixated on, she sounds like a heroin addict. Sadly, it appears that her daughter has caught the same bug. Watching the two of them interact is downright scary. I suspect that the daughter has begun having plastic surgery, too. Yikes.
Super Reviewer
October 20, 2011
"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is a moderately insightful and sympathetic documentary about a year in the life of the famed comedienne. The most interesting parts are the older clips of her that establish her as a trailblazer and not just tabloid fodder. And she continues to be provocative in her routine to this day, sometimes having to edit out the more tasteless jokes beforehand. One such subject she will not go near is death, probably due to the suicide of her late husband.

At the age of 75, Rivers is forcefully trying to turn back the clock and not go gently into that good night by performing as much standup as humanly possible which is hard enough when the drunks in the audience think they are funnier than you are and worse if you happen to be wearing a dress.(Just ask Eddie Izzard.) Whereas Rivers can expertly handle any heckler, she is remarkably thin-skinned when it comes to critics reviewing her plays which goes to every comedian wanting to be taken seriously. While part of her drive comes from not wanting to retire, some of it is fear of another kind of death, that of being forgotten.
Super Reviewer
February 10, 2011
The opening scene of "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" features the then seventy-five 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 summary 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, Joan 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. In the end, A Piece of Work is as emotional and funny as its subject, this triumph results in one of the best documentaries I've seen.

Story: B+
Acting: B+
Direction: A
Visuals: B
Overall: B+

***1/2 out of 4 stars
Super Reviewer
June 28, 2010
Who knew hobgoblins had feelings? I'm kidding, but sort've not. And Joan Rivers is all too keenly self-aware of these perceptions, and makes sure the viewers know she is. Her career has spanned almost 5 decades, and yet she's still getting great gigs while suffering disheartening failures along the way. No business like show business, eh?

This year-in-the-life window in Joan Rivers' life is an interesting navigation of show biz insight (and savvy), the nature of staying relevant, and in seeing the fight, wisdom and insecurities of a spunky woman who has bucked convention with still-shocking humor for so many years. We follow Rivers on the expected, yet still meaningful, highs-and-lows, such as her winning Celebrity Apprentice, but also having to dismiss a longtime friend and manager (who is over-introduced to set up this story arc anyway). In short, this is not the Joan Rivers most of us perceive in the regular media these days. Her passion is tangible, but so are her failings. That she wears on her face, lathered in makeup along with that unholy mask she uses to squeeze out human expression. The movie is funny, interesting, realistic, and at times meaningful: basically, a lot of adjectives that you wouldn't ordinarily associate with Joan Rivers. It is indeed quite the piece of work.
Super Reviewer
½ June 17, 2010
...and what a piece of work this is. An exhilarating, fast-paced, hilarious, moving, sad, inspiring, portrait of ambition and success at all costs. This wonderfully crafted documentary of a year in the life of the legendary comic/actor/writer/director/entrepreneur, Joan Rivers is more a study in loneliness, ego, neediness, and the saving grace of laughter than it is a bullet-point explanation of her life. Go to Wikipedia if you want all of the details, as this film has much more on its mind. Announcing itself as that in its opening closeups of Joan's bare face, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK is at once a celebration of this woman's seemingly bottomless pit of talent, as well as a raw peek inside an aging person's fear of being alone in the world. The way she so obviously cares for the people closest to her reveals a woman so anxious to connect while still maintaining a "never give up" attitude towards her career. One incredible sequence shows her going through a typical week, with so much work and travel, it made ME tired! Unwilling to give up her spot to the Kathy Griffins and the Sarah Silvermans of the world, much like Madonna won't ever cede to Lady GaGa, was kind of wonderful to behold, simply because she's STILL edgy, she's so funny, and she has something to say. I loved in particular how Joan's response to those who say she "OPENED" doors for her: "Fuck you! Opened? I'm STILL opening doors!"

Here's a woman who is terrified of the empty white pages of her calendar, who delivers food to home-bound people with life-threatening illnesses with her grandson in tow to teach him good values, who mourns the loss of a friend, because they were one of the few connections she had left who could remember the good old days with her.

Although the film doesn't shy away from the fact that she's richer than God, it doesn't keep us from caring about her - warts and all. A lovely, beautifully-made, laugh-out-loud funny film.
Page 1 of 30