Love, Gilda (NR)

Documentary 86 min. September 21, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
Like lots of docs about media personalities, Lisa D'Apolito's Love, Gilda is often rushed and scattered, only rarely letting one of its vintage clips play out, always cutting away to something else. As a career overview, it's less satisfying than just spending an hour online, pulling up highlights yourself.

But there's more to stars than their clip reels. Crucially, D'Apolito has managed to make Radner's own voice the voice of the film. Radner narrates, in a way, through her own audio diaries, plus some snippets of interviews and judicious excerpts from the audiobook of her perfectly titled -- and just-barely posthumous -- memoir, It's Always Something. The voiceover is sometimes awkwardly spliced, but D'Apolito combines it with glimpses of Radner's private home movies, personal photographs and samples of the performer's thoughts from her handwritten journals, including witty poems. This shifts the film's perspective someplace fresh: We're steeped in her mind and heart.

This interior perspective makes Radner's departure from Saturday Night Live -- and much public performing -- seem a relief rather than a loss. We may have wanted more, but as she attests here, she needed to discover who she truly was. The film's vital late passages concern the stability Radner found in the most unlikely of places: a high-profile Hollywood marriage. Gene Wilder comes across in private film footage as tender and loving, especially in scenes Wilder shot of Radner undergoing chemotherapy in the late 1980s. She unspools the scarf from her head to reveal a short shock of hair where once there had been that famous tangle. Radner beams at Wilder and asks how she looks, and he responds, with sincere awe, that she's beautiful.
Lisa Dapolito Andrew Alexander, Anne Beatts, Chevy Chase, Bill Hader, Janis Hirsch, Judy Levy, Melissa McCarthy, Lorne Michaels, Laraine Newman, Amy Poehler Bronwyn Berry, Meryl Goldsmith, James Tumminia Magnolia Pictures

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