She was charming, effervescent, genuine and downright funny. Those are just a few adjectives that describe beloved comedienne and actress, Gilda Radner. So, of course someone would eventually make a documentary or film about her! Why did it take so long to chronicle the life and times of the leading lady of sketch comedy? I’m not sure, but maybe it’s all about timing, place and access. Or maybe it has something to do with unearthing rare footage and never before heard audio tapes. Either way, we can be glad documentary filmmaker Lisa D’Apolito did so. Gilda catapulted onto the comedy scene and into our hearts when she made up part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live in 1975. That ensemble included the likes of John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Jane Curtain, Garret Morris and Chevy Chase. Even with heavyweight talent such as that, some of whom went on to become legends in the industry, no one’s light shined quite as brightly as Radner’s. That unique talent and universal appeal is but one aspect of the recently release documentary, Love Gilda, which profiles the performer’s career and life. For those of who grew up with Rosanne Rosannadanna and Lisa Loopner, you’ll appreciate the trek down memory lane, but there’s insight into Gilda beyond the wacky characters.
Using Radner’s own writings from her diary, and her own voice from recently released audiotapes, the film is often from the subject’s perspective. Woven in with her voice, is a smathering of contemporary comedic actors obviously inspired by Radner. Having the likes of Amy Pohler, Melissa McCarthy and Bill Hader, reading Gilda’s words is sweet and effective, without being drawn out or heavy handed. Additionally, director, D’Apolito, accessed rare video footage from almost every aspect of Gilda’s life, including childhood. The film chronicles her life from her formidable years growing up in Detroit with a close family in which her relationship with her grandmother was key, and her father’s death at a young age, was devastating. Audiences always knew the rail thin Gilda, but she actually was a chubby kid, an issue that seemed to bother her mother more than herself. Gilda was seemingly always full of delight and gusto, and even more so once she hit her later teen years. It was then that the pounds came off, she went to college, developing an taste for performing and for boyfriends, of which she had many.
Being the life of the party was a role she would carry throughout her life, charming the best of them, and bowling everyone with her untapped talent and boundless energy. It is that, along with a natural comedic talent, that captured the attention of SNL creator Loren Michaels. He discusses his impressions of Gilda and why he selected her as the first cast member of the iconic series. Not surprising, her life, loves and career were full of ups and downs, and D’Apolito is unflinching in her exploration of it all. Despite Gilda’s eventual wealth, fame and men, she also was a workaholic, struggled with eating disorders, became burnt out and disillusioned with her career. A first, short-lived marriage led to her famed relationship with Gene Wilder during the height of his career and the second phase of hers. Although their relationship and eventual marriage was cut short by her untimely death in 1989, it was the stuff of Hollywood legends. The specialness of their love that captured our attention, and the tragedy of her battle with and loss to cancer, make up the second half of the film. It is through the never-before-seen video footage that we get a window into their strong bond, her medical process and struggles, and her will to come back to her career and life and win. Her insatiable appetite for life, for love and to entertain permeates the documentary and prove to be the best of her story going beyond her her wacky characters and left for us in this touching film tribute.