Directed by Lisa Dapolito
Starring Andrew Alexander, Anne Beatts, Chevy Chase
Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes
by Sandy DeVito, Witchqueen of Darkness
A lovely, sincere slice-of-life documentary about Gilda Radner, first woman on the National Lampoon radio show and one of the first original seven members of Saturday Night Live. I particularly liked director Lisa Dapolito including some popular SNL comedians from today (Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy) reading bits of Gilda's journals aloud. To see how beloved she is still by the comedy community was particularly moving, even when some of the structure of Dapolito's film veered into a kind of paint-by-numbers scriptedness. I can't help but compare this to another documentary about a comedian I watched recently, also directed by a woman, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind; perhaps it's because I'm just so attached to Robin and have watched his films my whole life, whereas Gilda was at her most recognizable long before I was born let alone watching television, but I think it has more to do with the structure of the two pieces. There's an emphasis on Gilda's self-doubt, mostly aided by her personal writing, whereas Zenovich's documentary more often utilizes the words of people who knew Robin instead. But I find that's the rub; when we write about ourselves, we often veer all too easily into that doubt. And the truth of it is, nobody will ever really know the self except, well, yourself. Pieces like Love, Gilda are for the people who loved her; I'm not totally convinced it's our right to read all of her journals the way they're included here, I guess? There were moments where I felt I was looking into her bedroom, touching her belongings, and it didn't sit quite right with me. She deserves to have a certain amount of privacy, even after death.
Her relationship with Gene Wilder is an aspect of the piece that I wish went on for a little longer, though. I've loved Gene Wilder since I was a child, watching him often in Willy Wonka and the Hallmark Alice in Wonderland (I always try to mention his performance as Mock Turtle to anyone who says they're a fan of his work; it's a vastly underrated role in his film work that I've always adored), and even before I knew anything about Gilda herself, I heard stories about their relationship; how important she was to him. I felt I could relate to Gilda's struggles with her weight; I had eating disorder issues when I was in high school, my anorexia eventually morphing into bulimia the better to hide my habits from my mother. I decided I wanted to get better after meeting with therapists at an eating disorder facility (an experience that frankly terrified me; I narrowly missed being admitted on account of a lack of empty beds, but vowed to never be a patient there, and began eating small amounts of food so my parents wouldn't force me to be). Being a woman in this world is still so difficult, so fraught with unique agony. I hesitate to say something is missing in the documentary; it seems to tell her story with loving words and gaze. Both this and Come Into My Mind tap into the essential goal of comedy, too, I think; the world is full of pain and sadness, doubt and disorder. Comedy gives us the catharsis we need to go on; and the only real comedy is the kind infused with love.