Review: ‘Gilda Radner: It’s Always Something’

An overlong schmaltzfest with good intentions, "Gilda Radner: It's Always Something" doesn't pick up any emotional steam until it decides that it wants to be a story about living with cancer. But by then it's too late.

An overlong schmaltzfest with good intentions, “Gilda Radner: It’s Always Something” doesn’t pick up any emotional steam until it decides that it wants to be a story about living with cancer. But by then it’s too late. “Something” is a garden variety biopic that hops, skips and jumps through each of Radner’s chapters without any depth — it’s hard to tell why anyone even thought she was funny. Jami Gertz does reasonably well with what’s she’s given, and Tom Rooney is good at affecting Gene Wilder’s speech pattern and mannerisms — if only Janet Brownell’s script concentrated on their ups and downs, perhaps the schmaltz would be tolerable.

Radner was 42 when she died of ovarian cancer. “Something” rolls through her life chronologically. She is encouraged as a child by her father Herman (George Wyner) and her nanny to display her talent for humor and not worry about being overweight. She longs for her father’s support — he dies while she’s in puberty — and ends up turning to assorted men, all of whom come up short except for Wilder. During her young adult years, she also becomes a bulimic (there are far too many toilet shots here).

Director Duane Clark does little to expedite the action, and for most of this telepic, the audience is left waiting for something to happen. An abundance of voiceover attempts to make her life story feel like it’s playing out via the recording of the audiotape of her book, which is where this pic starts, but it smothers the onscreen action with a sense that there’s not enough narrative glue in the script.

The two-hour time frame means Brownell’s script can’t dawdle, yet its sprawling nature prevents anyone from learning much about the people in Radner’s life, many of whom exceed her in the celeb quotient.

After a run in “Godspell,” Radner moves to Toronto to join with the Second City troupe, befriending John Belushi (Eric Siegel), Bill Murray (Mather Zickel), Dan Aykroyd (Dan di Julio) and Eugene Levy (Patrick Fischler), all of whom are played by actors who bear a reasonable likeness.

From there, it’s on to New York where Lorne Michaels (Ari Cohen) convinces her to join his “Saturday Night Live.” Clearly, this is not an “SNL” expose — mostly Radner is shown delivering her famous characters, bypassing the drugs her cast mates were using and her constant search for dad’s approval (there’s also a lot of cigarette smoking).

Following “SNL,” she lands on Broadway, again with Michaels, and meets guitarist G.E. Smith (J.D. Nicholsen is stuck in the nothing role), whom she will soon marry. Pic suggests Radner felt like a failure after her run on the Great White Way — Variety reported that her 1979 show was “an especially funny evening” — and she turns to movies. Enter Wilder.

Radner does the proverbial “I’m going to the store” in New York with Smith and doesn’t return; it’s off to the movies with Wilder. As her career founders, she smothers Wilder with attention, pleading for a wedding ring and baby. She gets the first but not the latter.

Pic gathers its act together somewhat in its final stages as Radner is in and out of doctors’ offices with a variety of ailments, all of which she fears are cancer. Her attitude, as well as Wilder’s, changes after she receives treatment for her cancer, and they become a wildly supportive couple as Radner turns to her childhood friends for support and companionship. Whether the point of the pic is that celebrity is fleeting and your longtime friends and family members are the people who matter isn’t quite clear, though it’s certainly hinted at.

Review cassette had temp music and sound.

Gilda Radner: It's Always Something

ABC, Mon. April 29, 9 p.m.


Filmed in Toronto by Touchstone Television, Merv Griffin Entertainment and Jaffe/Braunstein Films in association with Winsome Entertainment. Executive producers, Merv Griffin, Ernest Chambers, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein, A.D. Oppenheim; producers, Janet Brownell, Clara George; director, Duane Clark; writer, Brownell based on the book "It's Always Something" by Gilda Radner.


Director of photography, Derick Underschultz; production designer, Carol Spier; editor, Paul Dixon; music, David Russo; casting, Liberman/Patton, Diane Kerbel. 120 MIN.


Gilda Radner - Jami Gertz Gene Wilder - Tom Rooney Lorne Michaels - Ari Cohen Herman Radner - George Wyner John Belushi - Eric Siegel Bill Murray - Mather Zickel Laraine Newman - Maureen Ross Nielson Jane Curtin - Jennifer Irwin Joanna Bull - Dixie Seattle Judy - Kathryn Winslow Pam - Lisa Messinger Dibby - Marcia Benentt G.E. Smith - J.D. Nicholsen
With:Dan di Julio, John Viener, Dean Bernard, Patrick Fischler, Jane Moffat, Roz Michaels, Kristen Bone.

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