This documentary spans the far short life of famed comedianne Gilda Radner is such a treasure. It’s a real gift, literally and figuratively, from Gilda to the world. The documentary uses recently discovered audio tapes of Gilda discussing her life: from her childhood growing up in Detroit in the 50s all the way through her days doing improv in Toronto, as well as the fame that came from being an original (and first) cast member of what’s now known as Saturday Night Live. It also covers her marriage to Gene Wilder and her battle with ovarian cancer. It’s almost as if she knew audiences would want her story in her words and was waiting for just the right moment to have these tapes be revealed.
This documentary, produced and directed by Lisa D’Apolito, does wonderful justice to these tapes, along with her journal entries, and personal home videos. Getting such incredible access to the intimate thoughts and feelings of Radner as she reflected on and lived her life is such a blessing and one that feels like a privilege. It’s a sentiment expressed by recent SNL stars like Bill Hader and Amy Poehler as they hold Radner’s journal in their hands. She wasn’t just an actress or a famous funny person to these now celebrities; she’s an inspiration and part of their comedy DNA. One of the most impactful things that this documentary does is show how much life Radner lived even though her life was cut painfully short in 1989 at only 42. Unlike many celebrities that can burn brightly and quickly, Gilda did that but also was genuinely beloved by so many people. Through interviews with co-stars, SNL writers, family, friends, etc. they speak of her with such joy and love.
Love, Gilda not only is a great watch for the already initiated fan, but also for younger audiences that may not know so much about her as a performer. There are plenty of clips of her SNL greatest hit characters, along with insidery information about where they came from, along with what is was like to be a cast member at the dawn of the comedy juggernaut. It’s an education in her unique type of comedy that struck a balance between character creation and the sharing of one’s personal self.
One of the truly remarkable things about this documentary is that while it hits on serious struggles in her life, like depression and eating disorders and her cancer, it always seems to find the light and love within the dark moments of her life.
The only downside to the documentary is that at a brief 88 minutes, audiences will crave more more more. There are times it feels akin in style to the HBO documentary The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling, and that clocked in at over 4 hours. Perhaps the bittersweet desire for more time in Love, Gilda reflects the feeling of wanting more time on earth for Gilda Radner herself.