The new documentary Love, Gilda, which premiered at Tribeca Film Fest this week, seems to do the impossible by having comedian Gilda Radner herself narrate the documentary, despite having died in 1989. Director Lisa D’Apolito gained access to dozens of hours of Radner's voice recordings (which Radner made in preparation for her posthumously published memoir), unpublished diaries, and letters to her mother. D'Apolito pairs Radner's own words with TV and movie footage, showing Radner's performances as an original cast member of Saturday Night Live (then just called Saturday Night), in '80s comedies including Hanky Panky and Haunted Honeymoon, and on various talk shows. There are traditional talking heads, including Radner’s SNL costars Chevy Chase and Laraine Newman, as well as comedians influenced by Radner like Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy. But the focus of the story is on Radner’s voice, and D’Apolito lets Radner tell her own story as much as possible.
D’Apolito shows that Radner had an incomparable talent, but also shows a darker side—the documentary details Radner's struggle with an eating disorder, her difficulty maintaining a romantic relationship until she married Gene Wilder in 1982, and the ovarian cancer that eventually killed her. There are some subjects that could have been delved into more deeply, particularly Radner’s relationship with feminism—D’Apolito includes only a quick mention that Radner did not identify as a feminist, without going into the reasons why. Love, Gilda is a celebration of Radner’s life and career that will be beloved by her fans, and make fans out of those who will be introduced to her work through this documentary. (4/5)
photo: Tribeca Film Fest
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