‘Love, Gilda’ offers plenty of reasons to remember and love Gilda
Directed by: Lisa Dapolito
Starring: Gilda Radner, Amy Poehler, Laraine Newman, Maya Rudoph, Melissa McCarthy, Martin Short, Bill Hader, Chevy Chase, and Alan Zweibel
“Love, Gilda” - “Because I’m not a perfect example of my gender, I decided to be funny about what I didn’t have instead of worrying about it.” – Gilda Radner
Gilda Radner, the very first cast member selected for “NBC’s Saturday Night”, did not always have it all, but she certainly garnered the adoration of millions and shot up to superstardom as one of three female Not Ready for Prime Time Players in 1975, along with Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman. Martin Short affectionately remarks that Radner always lit up a room, and she set this television show on fire with positive and physical comedic energy, a big smile and a collection of hilarious characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella and her hilarious impression of Barbara Walters, aka Baba Wawa.
Director Lisa Dapolito’s documentary “Love, Gilda” leaves a warm impression and ignites fond, forgotten memories of Radner that will rush back and lift the corners of your mouth.
“It’s always something.” – Roseanne Roseannadanna
Actually, it’s always someone in “Love, Gilda”, as influential comediennes and comedians – like Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Bill Hader, and more – read from Radner’s own notes and/or diary. They – along with Radner herself – narrate the film, as archive footage - from her childhood, teenage years and “NBC’s Saturday Night”/”Saturday Night Live” - rolls on the screen. Many times, it is difficult to distinguish the actual person recounting Radner’s life at a given moment, but each voice offers kind vibes, and the said television and movie stars bestow their admiration.
“Oh…well that’s very different. Never mind.” – Emily Litella
In one way, Radner took a different journey to television, and in another, she forged a typical path. Dapolito chronicles Radner’s reasons for moving to Ontario (which will not be revealed in this review), but while in Toronto, her trek to “NBC’s Saturday Night” becomes clear. She joined Toronto’s “Godspell” comedy troupe in the early 70’s, moved on to “Second City”, and John Belushi asked her to join “National Lampoon’s Radio Hour” as the sole “girl in the show.”
TV soon followed in 1975, but Radner wasn’t the first female comedian to strike gold on the small screen. Lucille Ball paved the way with “I Love Lucy”, and Carol Burnett starred in her own hit “The Carol Burnett Show” from 1967 to 1978, so the landscape had room for more comediennes. “NBC’s Saturday Night” found an edgy, fresh niche, and Radner clearly was its biggest female star. How big? The film identifies the exact moment that Radner, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Belushi, and others realized their massive influential reach with an enthusiastic American public. Like most TV and movie stars, rising to the top and eventually falling (gently or rapidly) is not free from controversy and/or heartache, and Radner was no exception.
“This is Baba Wawa.” – Baba Wawa
Radner and close friends report and disclose her insecurities that eroded her happiness. Thankfully, these demons did not dramatically grind down her joy, but like every human being, Radner carried self-doubts. In fact, due to one of her specific patterns, she surprisingly avoided the big screen smash “Ghostbusters” (1984) for – again - reasons that will not be revealed in this review.
A quick glance on Google - for those who are not aware – will reveal that Radner was taken from us much too soon, but the documentary treats those times with grace and illustrates thoughtful, enlightening moments. Told in linear fashion from beginning to end, “Love, Gilda” completely works as a heartfelt tribute to a bright star who recognized her faults but always lit up a room and our television sets. For those precious on-screen moments, Gilda Radner perfectly delivered laughter and wrapped her gift with wonder.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.