I am a huge fan of 30 Rock. Tina Fey is like my own personal god that I look to for guidance and advice. I have watched the show more times than I can count. Each time I make another trip around the 30 Rock I am drawn to the actress playing Jack Donaghy’s mother. Colleen Donaghy is an ultra classy old broad with the mouth of a sailor (basically who I want to be when I grow up). She isn’t afraid to tell her son her opinion no matter how inopportune the moment is. She is probably the most interesting elderly person on television because she is such a force of nature. The writers seemed to have written this character based on the actress they got to play her: Elaine Stritch. This documentary tells the story about Elaine Stritch and just how ballsy and cool she was in real life. (P.S. She did just die… RIP)
Stritch was a mainstay on Broadway for a couple dozen years. She was the muse of Stephen Sondheim, Noel Coward and several other Broadway producers, writers, and directors. She had a strong voice and an even stronger personality. She struts around New York City in a long shirt, panty hose, a fur coat and a bad ass attitude. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind or tell someone off, especially her closest friends. She shines in every conversation. It is a pity that not very many people are aware of her great persona.
This documentary is shot in a pretty standard way with little remarkable to comment on. Elaine Stritch is the focus which is a good thing. There needs to be very little visual trickery to make a more compelling subject. The history of her career and her battle with alcoholism and loosing a husband is sandwiched into the movie in abrupt ways that doesn’t seem entirely organic. But while it is nice to see her old stage photos and to listen to her wax poetic about Noel Coward, what is most interesting is watching her day-to-day activities. She stays at a fancy hotel, eats only english muffins, and prepares to do a small touring show of Broadway standards. With her advancing age and her diabetes she is having trouble remembering songs she has sung a million times before. While this frustrates her, she pulls off making a mistake the only way she knows how: with humor. No matter what she is doing, the audience that comes to see her is putty in her hands. No doubt the documentarian felt the same way. She is caught on camera several times giving direction or advice to the cameramen and they do nothing but obey her despite their placid objections. Stritch was a force to be reckoned with and this documentary is an excellent encapsulation of why.