Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me Review

(3.5 STARS)

There are a lot of obvious and superficial similarities between Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me and, from a few years ago, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Both follow older women with years of experience in show business as they struggle to keep up with what the demands of their careers. They both have “name-colon-phrase” titles. And both are terrific.

At the heart of these films, though, are two very different driving forces and, ultimately, two very different women. Rivers in A Piece of Work was open about the idea that she can’t stop performing without risking irrelevance. This led to some very prickly moments, but one couldn’t help but wonder if she’d be even more difficult if she slowed down.

That film’s thesis was rather clear from the moment it began, but Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a little tougher to pin down—at least for a while. Early on, Stritch (who passed away five months after this film was released) remarks that she doesn’t like show business because there’s too much dishonest people-pleasing. That’s an ongoing theme throughout the film—Stritch also comments on the outstanding relationship she maintains with her musical director of 13 years, Rob Bowman, who tells it like it is. But this idea seems to really clash with the entire notion of a film crew chronicling one person’s life. Without anything else, this documentary feels aimless and contradictory. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, but its most resonant material doesn’t make itself apparent until Stritch’s health really shows signs of decline.

The first hint we get at Stritch’s diabetes is when she’s conversing on the set of 30 Rock with fellow diabetic Tracy Morgan. Of course, Stritch’s biggest fans probably know about the challenges she’s faced, but most will be totally unprepared for the physical vulnerability on display over this film’s 80 minutes. Granted, Stritch is in her late 80s, but seeing her lose her speech, struggle to walk, and talk about how she feels death knocking on her door is emotionally tough.

Stritch needs help remembering her lyrics and getting on and off stage, and before the film ends, she remarks that she thinks its time for her to get out of New York City (something she does a couple months before passing away). So all while we reminisce with Stritch about her glory days and laugh about her brashness and individuality, we’re well aware that her next curtain call could be her last.

In other words, while it’s disguised as an amusing show biz doc, the film is a poignant reminder that everything has an expiration date, and there’s no doubt that message hits home harder for those viewing the film in the wake of Stritch’s passing than those who took it in while Elaine was still with us. But for everyone—whether you knew Stritch from her broadway days, 30 Rock, or just this movie—it’s great that we have Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me to carry on the legacy of this truly one-of-a-kind lady.

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