Generally favorable reviews - based on 34 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 32 out of 34
  2. Negative: 0 out of 34
Watch On
  1. A highly entertaining documentary revealing a serious talent behind the one-note present-day reputation.
  2. 80
    Rivers appears to have more energy than most 30-year-olds; she gets more done in a day that some of us could accomplish in a week.
  3. Reviewed by: Bob Mondello
    As the film demonstrates over the course of a full year with her, and not a great year by any stretch -- there is more to this particular hard-charging, egomaniacal, joke machine than gets revealed onstage.
  4. It's one of the best documentaries ever made about show business, about what it really consists of and what it demands.
  5. 88
    There's not a timid, sympathy-begging minute in it. Even better, you leave Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work with the exhilarating feeling that the lady is just hitting her stride.
  6. 88
    Fascinating and has a lot of laughs in it.
  7. 88
    A documentary that exerts a car-wreck fascination as it follows the icon through her 75th year (she's now 77) while looking back over her tumult-filled life and career.
  8. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    One of the smarter, more unexpectedly touching documentaries of the year, and I recommend it to you whether you love Rivers or loathe the very thought of her.
  9. 75
    Although Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is unmistakably a fawning love letter to an amazing performer, its subject proves to be her sharpest, bluntest critic.
  10. Stern and Sundberg, best known for their Darfur documentary "The Devil Came on Horseback," did not shrink from the atrocities in Sudan; nor do they shrink from the fame-hungry excesses here.
  11. Succeeds because the subject knows she's a showbiz monster and plays her role to the hilt. She's Norma Desmond in "Sunset Blvd." or "Mommie Dearest's" Joan Crawford up from the grave.
  12. 75
    It's all about personality and Joan's inimitable style, which fills every second of its 84 minutes.
  13. The most provocative thing in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is the moment during the opening credits when we glimpse the comedy legend without makeup.
  14. The insecurities that seem to feed Rivers's often angry humor -- and that have left her face looking like a mask frozen in horror -- are left unexamined.
  15. A compulsively watchable look at Rivers.
  16. It's easy to think of comics, especially time-tested ones like Rivers, as mechanical laugh-generators. Stern and Sundberg allow her to reveal the deep-rooted humanity of those ever-present quips, and the effect is humbling.
  17. For the small but enthusiastic documentary crowd and the comic's diehard fans, it's a must-see.
  18. If you're looking for an incisive portrait of self-generated stardom, you won't do better than this.
  19. An entirely sympathetic portrait of the artist at an advancing age. That's right, artist – and to a generation that knows Rivers only as a screeching red-carpet provocateur or as an overknifed monstrosity, that revelation alone is worth the cost of admission.
  20. She's a teller of hilarious gutbucket truths as surely as Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor ever were. Yet while they were consumed by their demons, Rivers is just the opposite.
  21. Reviewed by: Stan Hall
    Rarely has a documentary subject projected such palpable fear and anxiety as Joan Rivers in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
  22. 75
    In the movie's best moments, Rivers is defiantly obnoxious and forthcoming about the fact that she'll do anything for money. At other times, the filmmakers attempt to make the wildcat warmer and fuzzier.
  23. This convulsively funny movie takes an up-close and sometimes queasy-personal approach to its motormouth subject, who, when she's not making you howl with laughter (or freeze up in horror), brandishes her deeply held hurts, fears, prejudices, poor judgment and bad taste as if they were stigmata.
  24. She is by turns blue, bitter, hilarious, unbroken; a Hollywood-style portrait in infinite ambition. In that role, Rivers is unforgettable.
  25. Reviewed by: Mary Pols
    Remarkably, thanks to this documentary, we hope for the sake of this smart, vibrant, apparently good-hearted woman, that the invitations keep coming.
  26. Reviewed by: Dennis Harvey
    Mixing hilarious standup footage with admiring if not exactly cuddlesome behind-the-scenes glimpses.
  27. What she thinks of herself, though, seems perfectly, if improbably, reasonable--a queen of comedy who won't and shouldn't abdicate.
  28. 80
    Rivers comes across as a consummate professional but also a genuine person, ruthlessly honest about her life decisions and utterly devoid of self-pity.
  29. 70
    Maybe Joan Rivers is a high-powered engine of self-debasement who will go lower than anyone else for a laugh and a dollar, and maybe she's a skilled actress who has spent her whole life playing one. Either way, yes, she's quite something. And I'd rather appreciate her from a distance.
  30. By turns desperately funny and unfunnily desperate?
  31. 70
    For all the frenzied activity, Joan Rivers is less informative dish than infomercializing cliché.
  32. 91
    A Piece of Work is the antithesis of Jerry Seinfeld's engaging but superficial 2002 documentary "Comedian": where the innately private Seinfeld holds nearly everything back, Rivers loudly broadcasts the kind of fears, anxieties, and ambitions most people would do anything to hide.
  33. The film's biggest unexplored question: Why is someone with a reputation for laying bare the truth so addicted to plastic surgery?
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 26 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 8 out of 8
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 8
  3. Negative: 0 out of 8
  1. j30
    Sep 22, 2011
    A very entertaining movie about a very entertaining woman. It didn't particularly make me like Joan Rivers in any way, but she's funny and asA very entertaining movie about a very entertaining woman. It didn't particularly make me like Joan Rivers in any way, but she's funny and as the title suggests 'A Piece of Work.' Full Review »
  2. Sep 17, 2011
    As a person who has never been a Joan Rivers fan, much less a Joan-and-Melissa Rivers fan, this documentary of a year in the life of the mostAs a person who has never been a Joan Rivers fan, much less a Joan-and-Melissa Rivers fan, this documentary of a year in the life of the most irritating comedienne on the planet is surprisingly, uhm, UN-irritating. Joan is the most human I've ever seen her and, like the movie Comedian by Jerry Seinfeld showed, the makeup of a comedian is rooted in insecurity and a sad, self-loathing existence that they feel trapped in. I'd never related why we saw George Burns, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, etc. continuing to publicly perform their comedy until near-death. We still see it in people like Don Rickles and, as is painfully displayed here, Joan Rivers. On one hand, the viewer has to admire her raw talent and endless drive, but on the other hand, one wants to just hug her and say, "uhm...go retire. Go do something you've always wanted to do." That's just it, though. She IS what she's created. And that IS what she wants to do, even as each year looks sadder and sadder. She owns her existence, though, and while even aware of its flaws, she continues to power through. If you've seen her honest dialogue with Louie this past season and was moved by the honesty of it, this documentary will blow you away. Full Review »
  3. Dec 16, 2010
    I was surprised of the movie not being recognized by the Academy of Documentary. I guess they don't want anything to do with Joan Rivers, andI was surprised of the movie not being recognized by the Academy of Documentary. I guess they don't want anything to do with Joan Rivers, and that's the whole point of the documentary. The doc started out with Joan Rivers' lowpoint of her career (when she's already 70 years old), and it progresses with Rivers working her way up again. The film demonstrates how the once comedic icon and well known star turned into "a piece of work". With her comedic talents blending with her sad emotions, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a snub that the Academy missed out on. OscarBuzz: NONE, that's the point! Full Review »