Short Cuts: Joan Rivers, Hugh Hefner and a one-night ‘Freebie’“Short Cuts” are expedient, pretension-free movie reviews. This installment tackles “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” and “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel” (both documentaries) and “The Freebie,” a surprisingly intriguing film starring Dax Shepard and Katie Aselton.
“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”
WHAT IT IS: An all-access look into the highs and lows (though mostly lows) of a year in the life of the much-maligned Joan Rivers, whose pioneering comedy career got its start in the late ’60s on Carson.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: As director Ricki Stern and co-director Annie Sundberg cameras start rolling, “A Piece of Work” viewers are hit with a hard reality: Joan Rivers just isn’t as bookable as she once was. Cringe-worthy scene after cringe-worthy scene unravel as the 77-year-old comedienne’s assistant flips through her datebook, pointing out just how many dates she doesn’t have filled. (Some months are completely bare.) One booker politely explains that it’s not about talent but about the It factor — which is a crying shame, as Rivers is still one of the funniest women on the planet. (If you have any doubts about this, there are choice performance clips woven into the narrative that will leave you reeling.) But Rivers is as determined as ever to get back into the limelight. I won’t spoil any of the documentary's said highs or lows (though I’m tempted to clue you in on a certain misadventure at a backwoods casino in Wisconsin…); just rest assured that this is a fascinating piece of film you won’t want to miss.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Rent it, without a doubt. I hesitate to urge people to buy this documentary, as some of its all-too-raw scenes are a tad unnerving for casual viewings.
… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: Visit www.joanriversapieceofwork.com or check out the film’s trailer below:
“Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel”
WHAT IT IS: Acclaimed filmmaker Brigitte Berman’s exhaustive look at the highs and lows (though mostly highs) of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire, from the magazine’s uncertain start to his various bouts of activism throughout the years.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: Absolutely inspiring. After quitting his job at Esquire in the early ’50s, Hugh Hefner poured everything he had into Playboy. The magazine, of course, became his platform through the decades to tackle such weighty issues as First Amendment rights, gay rights and, believe it or not, women’s rights. There are few individuals living today who have been responsible for so much positive change in the world, and the most important “bullet points” are included in this compelling documentary. Whether you agree with his liberal politics or not, you can’t deny what a force Hefner has been in his 84 years of existence.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Rent it, for sure — unless you’re a Playboy completist, then you’ll definitely want to own this fascinating summation of Hef’s truly inspired life.
… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: Visit www.hughhefnerplayboyactivistrebel.com to check out the film’s trailer.
WHAT IT IS: A dramedy about spouse-sanctioned one-night-stands starring Dax Shepard. "The Freebie" also stars Katie Aselton (from the FX comedy series “The League”), who also wrote and executive-produced the film with her husband and “League” co-star Mark Duplass, whose credits also include the buzzed-about twisted comedy “Cyrus.”
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: "The Freebie" is much better than about 85 percent of cynical movie reviewers probably imagined. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Believe it or not, Dax Shepard can act. He’s dazzled us all as Crosby on NBC’s “Parenthood” — admit it! — and he applied that same sense of unsuspecting magic here. In “The Freebie” he plays Darren, who’s happily married to Aselton’s Annie. As happy as they are, however, their love life is pretty much nonexistent. Instead of doing something practical about it — like, say, calling up “The Love and Sex Show” with Dr. Jenn Berman on Cosmo Radio — they come up with a novel idea: one night of no-questions-asked infidelity. … Yikes, right? But what’s most interesting about this film isn’t whether or not both of them went through with it but the ensuing fallout of having ever considered such a “fix” for their marriage. You will be blown away by both principal actors’ performances, and Aselton’s script is equally as solid.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Buy it. Every respectable movie collection needs a title that makes its owner(s) feel — to borrow a line from the rock group Pleasant — as awkward as a beehive. Hey, it’s better than living through it yourself.
… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: Visit www.untie-theknot.com or check out the film’s trailer below: