Gilda Live (1980) / Comedy-Documentary

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Gilda Radner, Don Novello, Paul Shaffer
Director: Mike Nichols

Screenplay: Anne Beatts, Lorne Michaels, Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Don Novello, Michael O'Donoghue, Gilda Radner, Paul Shaffer, Rosie Schuster, Alan Zweibel
Review published September 17, 2004

Gilda Live films the Broadway show "Gilda Radner: Live from New York", a sketch comedy primarily featuring one of the original, and most popular "Saturday Night Live" not-ready-for-prime-time players, Gilda Radner.  Uncensored and able to cut loose, Radner shows here far more talent than she had been allowed to do while on the ensemble TV show, with lots of singing and dancing thrown in with the comedy.  Her bawdy side is evidenced right from the get-go, with a raunchy rendition of "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals", which is perhaps the funniest musical bit in the entire show.  Most of her famous characters from SNL are here -- Emily Litella, Roseanne Roseannadanna, Candy Slice, and Lisa Hoopner, and she adds couple of new ones as well. 

Although Gilda is the main attraction, she also has brought along some friends from SNL, most notably Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello), who adds some moments of dry with amid the crazy antics of the energetic star, with bits like the "Kennedy/Linoln Coinzidenza" and "The 5-Minute University".  Gilda Live's stage show was also produced by Lorne Michaels, who also produces Saturday Night Live.  The show wasn't really a hit, running on Broadway for only seven weeks, although culminating in the filmed version which brought a stellar director in Mike Nichols (Working Girl, Primary Colors). 

The film itself is a mixed bag.  As a showcase for the talent of Gilda Radner, this is a smashing success, as she exudes a charm and spirit that makes you fall in love with her even when you don't find the skit particularly funny (which is all too often).  You can tell the crowd loves her, as well as her eccentric characterizations, as the audience pours out their love for her while she gives it right back.  There are some behind the scenes shots, mostly of Gilda changing wardrobe, but this serves only as a curiosity rather than a memorable technique.  It is well-shot, and does capture the magic sufficiently, but in the end, the material is very hit and miss to anyone who isn't an avowed Gilda Radner fanatic.

Considering how difficult Gilda's life would become shortly after this film's release, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer with would eventually take her life in 1989, there is an element of nostalgic sadness that comes with watching Gilda Live, to see how funny and exuberant a young woman she was at the peak of her abilities.  If you love Gilda, you'll love this movie.  For those who aren't hardcore fans, you'll probably like parts of it, sit patiently through others, and still may end up loving Gilda by the end.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo