Starring: Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers, Kathy Griffin
Directed by: Ricki Stern (“The End of America”) and Anne Sundberg (“The End of America”)

Whether you know her for her groundbreaking stand-up comedy in the 60s and 70s, her work on the red carpet during Hollywood awards shows, or her recent face time on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” there’s no middle ground when it comes to pledging your allegiance to Joan Rivers. In the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg may not convert moviegoers who find the 77-year-old comedienne unlikeable, but they do manage to chip away most of her rough exterior for an unrefined and heartbreaking look at what truly motivates her as a performer.

Spending an entire year with Rivers for the documentary, Stern and Sundberg effortlessly create a tragic figure out of their subject by allowing her to speak honestly and without any excuses for her decisions in life. Working to keep her legendary status alive for as long as she can, Rivers offers her innermost thoughts, emotions and fears as if she was talking to someone she trusts wholeheartedly.

“I’ll show you fear,” Rivers says at one point in the film as she opens an empty planner revealing no tour dates or scheduled performances. It’s funny, yes, but Stern and Sundberg’s portrayal of Rivers is one mostly of self-concern, commitment, and vulnerability. Through effective archive footage, hilarious interviews with friends and colleagues, and backstage access with Rivers herself, “A Piece of Work,” while it could use a huge exclamation mark at the end of it, lives up to its title in compelling fashion.

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