Few people in show business are more accomplished, abrasive, or driven than Joan Rivers. The documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work gives the viewer a year in her life.

Actually, there's very little distinction here between Rivers' life and career. From start to finish, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is about her working life. We learn more about daughter Melissa when she and Joan were shooting The Celebrity Apprentice together, and Rivers' husband is discussed more as her manager than spouse. Still, since Rivers has been performing since the 1960s to the present, such a career is worth attention.
And how does Joan Rivers come across here? She's a series of contradictions: enormously successful, yet fearful of failing and being forgotten; brash and controversial, yet insecure; complaining about having to work at her age (this documentary includes Rivers' 75th birthday) yet unable to stop or even slow down. The most consistent aspect of Rivers' life is, well, simple greed: She lives like a queen and will do just about anything for the money to pay for this lifestyle.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work collects material both from interviews with Rivers, archival footage from her early days on The Tonight Show and stand-up routines, current t.v. appearances (The Celebrity Apprentice, her Comedy Central roast) and club performances, and her play about her life story. This documentary doesn't shy away from Rivers' flaws, yet it makes her somehow more admirable for them: Joan Rivers comes across as possibly the hardest-working person in show business, even at 75. With all her self-doubts and worries Joan Rivers is still amazing to see perform: edgy, energetic, and funny. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work may be an incomplete look at Joan Rivers' life, but it's a very good look at the world of show business in which she lives.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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