From films like “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” to “Three Identical Strangers,” the documentary genre has churned out some strong features this year, and Lisa D’Apolito’s moving portrait “Love, Gilda” is no exception.
Whether you’re a long-time fan or have never before heard the name of the film’s subject, Gilda Radner, “Love, Gilda” is an absolute must-see. The film highlights her life, her rise to fame on Saturday Night Live and how her immense popularity impacted her life during and after her time on the late-night show.
D’Apolito has created a superbly intimate portrayal of Radner. The pictures shown throughout were so carefully chosen and placed that they were able to tell the story all on their own. The film does go into depth about her personal relationships and later battle with cancer, but it never digs too deep or crosses the line. By using her own words to detail the moments of darkness, D’Apolito keeps these stories of emotional and physical pain controlled and not misconstrued.
The film touches on the roots of Radner’s comedy chops. Throughout her life, Radner dealt with her pain by making people laugh. In a part of her taped journal — which D’Apolito uses as narration throughout the movie — Radner explains that when people called her fat as a child, she would deflect it with humor. Her natural talent for comedy came from a place of pain and self-deprecation that lasted her whole life, and D’Apolito makes sure to highlight this fact.
Through personal narration, photos and home videos, the movie generates a friendly and inviting story. Audience members feel as though they are close friends of Radner, conversing and engaging with her. Of course, when watching the clips of her classic sketches from SNL, such as Roseanne Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa, the audience slips back into the role of a distant fan. But still, the film maintains its intimate atmosphere and never loses that welcoming feel. You never feel like an intruder in the story, as if you are overhearing and seeing personal, delicate information.
There are multiple interviews scattered throughout the documentary that depicts how Radner’s family, friends and fans saw her. The interviewees range from SNL producer Lorne Michaels to former cast members Amy Poehler and Bill Hader to Radner’s brother and her best friend. They remember Radner’s life and work in different ways but are all connected by the love they had for her. The interviews reflect how she affected the people in her life when she was alive and how she impacted those who look up to her after her passing.
Radner passed away from ovarian cancer at the age of 42 in 1989. She is widely remembered for all the joy and laughter that she brought to so many people. This documentary captures her spirit beautifully and keeps her legacy alive for a new generation.
“Love, Gilda” opened in New York Theaters on Friday, Sept. 21.
Email Kaylee DeFreitas at [email protected]