2018, NR, 88 min. Directed by Lisa Dapolito.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Sept. 21, 2018
To be crystal clear: Comedian and actress Gilda Radner was a genius. Her humor and her life were an impeccable combination of a love of life and precise comic timing. There are beings that light this planet, shining brightly. And Radner shined. It is impossible for me to think of a world without her, and Lisa Dapolito’s documentary goes above and beyond in marking this person’s life.
Born to an affluent family in Detroit, Radner struggled with her weight from an early age, continuously chided by her mother. But that did not stop her from being the life of the party. Performing for her family and their friends, it became very evident that she was destined for a life in the arts. By the time she fell in with the likes of Martin Short and Eugene Levy, doing Toronto productions of Godspell, she had dropped out of college and succumbed to the life of a performer.
Of course, it was Saturday Night Live that gave Radner the platform that made her a star. The doc runs the rolodex of her classic characters: The skillful knife that was the parody of lifestyle reporters, Roseanne Roseannadanna; the old lady curmudgeon Emily Litella, whose rants on "Weekend Update" invariably ended with her going off the rails into tangents that ended with that classic riposte, “Never mind.” Her boundless energy and enthusiasm is what makes Dapoloto’s film thrive, with access to all the archival footage, the fact that Radner was filmed at an early age, but most importantly, her diaries. She kept extensive, nay exhaustive details of her life, which are lovingly shown in the film.
The only misstep the film makes is having contemporary comedians read over these entries with a kind of wonderment that borders on beatification. It’s the usual cast of people: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Amy Schumer, Maya Rudolph, all gushing over Radner’s most intimate thoughts about the world. In hindsight, I suppose it makes sense, but it is extraneous and cloying. It’s the one false note in an otherwise loving and compelling portrait of a remarkable entertainer. Gene Wilder doesn’t even show up until the third act, as the love of her life, as she battled eating disorders and ultimately dying from ovarian cancer in 1989. Her work, her life, and her spirit come through in this obviously heartfelt film. As Radner says at one point, “That’s what comedy is. It’s hitting on the truth before the other guy thinks of it.”