×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’

A superior celebrity docu that finds the Broadway legend contemplating retirement as well as her own mortality.

With:
Elaine Stritch, Alec Baldwin, Rob Bowman, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Cherry Jones, Julie Keyes, Nathan Lane, Tracy Morgan, Harold Prince, John Turturro, George C. Wolfe.

“She’s still here … but not for much longer” is the subtext of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” a superior celebrity docu that finds the Broadway legend on the doorstep of her 87th birthday, contemplating retirement as well as her own mortality. Painting a surprisingly tender, insulin-injections-and-all portrait of a star known for her brassy demeanor and Teflon exterior, this feature directing debut for vet docu producer Chiemi Karasawa (“The Betrayal,” “Tell Them Anything You Want”) should earn wide fest and ancillary exposure, plus limited theatrical, where it will prove catnip to the cabaret crowd and those entranced by the artistry of great performers.

Karasawa starts with a montage of her subject brazenly negotiating street and sidewalk traffic on the Upper East Side, pausing to needle admirers with her Don Rickles-esque ripostes. Then on to the set of “30 Rock,” where she ably trades barbs with TV son Alec Baldwin (also one of the docu’s executive producers). From there, it’s back to the Carlyle Hotel, where Stritch lives and is rehearsing a new show —“Singin’ Sondheim … One Song at a Time” — with longtime musical director Rob Bowman. A great many films of this sort would have happily continued along in this breezy, not-very-deep vein. But “Shoot Me” suggests it has bolder ambitions when Stritch, mid-rehearsal, becomes weak and starts forgetting her lines. The lapse is blamed on low blood sugar, but as Karasawa goes on to reveal, Stritch’s memory has been failing her for a while, sometimes leaving her perched on the edge of panic before she has to take the stage.

This much won’t come as news to those who’ve seen Stritch perform in recent years, where, always the consummate show woman, she and Bowman have elegantly folded her gaffes into a production that has often seem propelled by sheer iron will. But as “Shoot Me” proceeds, Stritch allows herself to appear far more vulnerable and emotionally naked than she ever has in front of an audience. There are hospital stays (as her diabetes worsens), followed by more anxiety attacks, and one truly frightening episode — a medical emergency during a visit to the Hamptons — that plays like an outtake from “Amour.”

In between, Karasawa captures admiring testimonials from friends both inside (Tina Fey, James Gandolfini) and outside (a fellow AA member) showbiz. And there is much sharp-tongued reminiscing from Stritch herself, about dating JFK (she was too good of a Catholic girl to let him have his desired way), her alcoholism, the legends with whom she shared the stage, and her marriage to actor and playwright John Bay (cut short after 10 years by his death from a brain tumor). Yet it’s aging, gracefully but painfully, that turns out to be “Shoot Me’”s unassailable constant. “I like the courage of age,” Stritch says in one scene — and, even when she is at her weakest, her courage fills the room.

Karasawa deftly orchestrates the sometimes hairpin tonal shifts, never veering towards the saccharine; if she did, Stritch would probably shoot her. Late in the film, she follows Stritch to an engagement in the performer’s native Detroit, where she reconnects with her large extended family and begins to think about hanging up her signature oxford shirt and tights for good. Indeed, Stritch’s last act, like those that have come before it, isn’t going to happen on anyone else’s schedule. At the Tribeca screening reviewed, Karasawa and Bowman revealed that the movers had picked up the remainder of Stritch’s belongings that very morning, en route to Michigan. Quite literally, Elaine had left the building, but not before leaving this very fine cinematic testament behind.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 23, 2013. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An Isotope Films presentation of a Smart Broad production in association with Providence Productions. (International sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Chiemi Karasawa, Elizabeth Hemmerdinger. Executive producers, Alec Baldwin, Cheryl Wiesenfeld.

Crew: Directed by Chiemi Karasawa. Camera (Color Collective color, HD), Shane Sigler, Josh Weinstein, Rod Lamborn; editors, Kjerstin Rossi, Pax Wassermann; supervising editor, Enat Sidi; music, Kristopher Bowers; music supervisor, Kyle McKeveny; sound, Patrick Southern, Cole Wenner, Clayton Perry; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Benny Mouthon; associate producers, Ginalola Lowry, Houri Guedelekian, Piet Sinthuchai.

With: Elaine Stritch, Alec Baldwin, Rob Bowman, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Cherry Jones, Julie Keyes, Nathan Lane, Tracy Morgan, Harold Prince, John Turturro, George C. Wolfe.

More Film

  • Steven Spielberg Branko Lustig

    'He Left Me Speechless': Steven Spielberg Remembers Branko Lustig

    Steven Spielberg has offered a touching remembrance of Branko Lustig, the Holocaust survivor who produced “Schindler’s List” with Spielberg and Gerald Molen and died Thursday in Croatia. “I was heartbroken to hear of Branko’s passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends,” Spielberg said. “When we first met to discuss ‘Schindler’s List,’ he [...]

  • Dylan Brosnan and Paris BrosnanGolden Globe

    Pierce Brosnan’s Sons Paris and Dylan Brosnan Named 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors

    Pierce Brosnan’s two youngest sons, Paris and Dylan Brosnan, have been named as the 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced on Thursday evening. Paris and Dylan are also the sons of journalist and author Keely Shaye Smith. The ambassador(s), a title that typically goes to the son or daughter of a [...]

  • Joaquin Phoenix'Joker' film premiere, Arrivals, 57th

    Film News Roundup: Joaquin Phoenix Honored by Palm Springs Film Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, Joaquin Phoenix is honored for “Joker”; Legion M backs Joe Manganiello’s “Archenemy”; sales have launched on “Lev Yashin: The Dream Goalkeeper”; Warner Bros. shuffles execs and Universal launches a first-of-its-kind animation writing program. HONOR Joaquin Phoenix has been selected as the recipient of the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s chairman’s [...]

  • Danny Huston

    Danny Huston Discusses the Significance of 'Last Photograph'

    In the decades since Danny Huston made his feature directing debut with “Mr. North,” his 1988 film adaptation of the Thornton Wilder novel “Theophilus North,” he has kept busy in front of the cameras as one of film and television’s most versatile and sophisticated character players. In just the past year, small-screen viewers have been [...]

  • Rocketman

    'Rocketman': Chris Dickens Discusses the Inside Story of Editing 'I'm Still Standing'

    Endings are so important and how the viewer leaves the cinema is crucial. For editor Chris Dickens, finding the perfect ending for “Rocketman” was paramount, but it was also a challenge. Elton John’s hit “I’m Still Standing” was going to end the film with the original idea of going to Cannes to recreate the video [...]

  • A general view of the skyline

    United Media Asia Strikes Deal With Indonesian Giant Kompas Gramedia

    Newly-formed content finance, production and distribution company United Media Asia has struck a first look deal, brokered by Hollywood talent agency CAA, with Indonesian media giant Kompas Gramedia. United has also unveiled its first two feature films. The partnership provides UMA with access to Kompas Gramedia’s media network and its 100,000 pieces of intellectual property, [...]

  • Taron Egerton Fashion

    Taron Egerton's Stylist Used Elton John as Inspiration on Press Tour

    Showstopping looks: For Taron Egerton’s “Rocketman” tour, stylist Gareth Scourfield nodded to Elton John’s iconic wardrobe with bold colors, patterns and silhouettes: “We got a bit more eccentric.” May 16 “Elton is the real original showman,” says Scourfield, who met Egerton through another client, Egerton’s “Rocketman” co-star Richard Madden. “Part of Taron as a man [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content