The filmmakers follow Rivers through what she herself acknowledges is a down period in 2008-09, where she points to blank pages on her calendar in months ahead and says, "Do you want to see what fear is? That's fear." She has hopes, however, that her new autobiographical stage play will be successful, and she's also about to begin a stint on Celebrity Apprentice with her daughter, Melissa, that could bring her a brand-new audience.
And it becomes clear why that's crucial to Rivers—both because of her need to maintain a posh lifestyle that occasionally seems paycheck-to-paycheck, and because of her need for the approval of an audience. While the back story touches on her groundbreaking success as a female comedian, her rift with Johnny Carson, and the tragedy of her husband's suicide, this isn't primarily a retrospective biography. It's about Rivers as a performer who maintains a massive card catalog of 30 years worth of jokes, and fumes over seeing Kathy Griffin—who praises Rivers here for opening doors—take the gigs that used to be hers.
The film does take a less interesting detour involving Rivers' conflict with her long-time manager, Billy Sammeth, but it's necessary perhaps to illustrate the way career trumps everything for Rivers, even personal relationships. A Piece of Work scores because it spends most of its time watching its subject simply be her funny, bitter, anxious, distinctive self.
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
Now playing only at Broadway Centre Cinemas