ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME
(directed by Chiemi Karasawa, 2013)
(**** out of 5)
> Elaine Stritch is a force of nature!
. I’ve always appreciated her flamboyant performances, but after seeing this delightful and disturbing biopic about this great dame of stage and screen, I find it impossible not to adore her.
. Elaine would be the first to admit that she is a “difficult” woman but the last to apologize for it. (We see some behind the scenes footage on the set of TV’s 30 ROCK where Elaine is playing Alec Baldwin’s “difficult”, borderline loony mother and we get the very strong sense that she is really playing herself! Mr. Baldwin receives no small amount of crap from this barbed cactus of a woman, but he gives as good as he gets, and the wonderful closing credits reveal him to be one of the films executive producers. Good move, Alec.) Just about to turn 87 at the time SHOOT ME was filmed, the determined octogenarian is attempting to mount yet another bravura one-woman review, and though they had all been triumphs in a long and storied career, this one may be a bridge too far. Her health and memory are fading fast, and the lyrics in the Sondheim tribute she is undertaking are many and complex. (Sondhiem himself is concerned about this, forgiving her in advance.) Elaine will forever be associated with his play COMPANY, and with the song “Ladies Who Lunch”. She can’t so much sing as bark and growl, but nobody barks and growls better than this one-of-a-kind performer.
. Her outspoken directness both masks and reveals a profound vulnerability that is very disarming and endearing. Ms. Stritch effortlessly brings the term “feisty” to new extremes, giving (mostly) good-natured shit to everyone she encounters. We see amazing footage from her early career that reminds us that this singer/ actor/ dancer/ comedienne/ personality has been terrific for a long, long time.
. But there’s not much time left.
. Elaine knows this, thinks about it and feels it deeply, sharing her thoughts and fears nakedly to the camera disheveled and sans makeup in her sick bed. It’s wrenching. She knows all too well that that final curtain is soon to fall, and fears that this time, there will be no curtain call. The segments about the horror, humiliation and indignity of growing old are heartbreaking. The segments showing this fierce, brave woman persevering despite a failing body and faltering memory are absolutely inspiring.
. Along with Rob Bowman, her longtime piano accompanist, we fret and worry for this irascible but loveable woman that she has bitten off more than she can chew. Rehearsals are disastrous. She can barely remember the opening lines of the first song. As the audience assembles for opening night, we know something they didn’t: that the formidable Ms. Stritch was not vaguely ready for that curtain to rise, and in fact, may never be.
. And then there is her struggle with the bottle to contend with. She keeps telling us she has cut down to one drink a day, as we see her prepare her third or fourth highball. (Denial, as Mark Twain quipped, is more than just a river in Egypt.)
> See this wonderful film prepared to laugh and cry and think and feel. The way this consummate professional handles the inevitable lapses in front of live audiences is a true feat of showmanship and a wonder to behold.
– – –
Sad to say, the devine Ms. Stritch passed away only days after I wrote this review, and given her last unforgettable performance. I sure hope she’s getting that afterlife curtain call she so richly deserves!
R.I.P. ELAINE STRITCH
2/2/25 – 7/17/14
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.