Review: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (GFF)

Elaine Stritch has been a Broadway star for over sixty-five years working with everyone from Stephen Sondheim to Noel Coward. This success on the stage inevitably lead to roles in film and television, from working with Woody Allen in September to starring in hit-British sitcom, Two’s Company and later US sitcome 30 Rock. The eighty-nine year old’s long history within showbusiness, as well as her brassy, confident, and outspoken demeanour make her the perfect subject for documentary that is in equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and touchingly poignant.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me follows the Broadway star as she prepares for a round of US shows and goes about her day to day life in New York. In the style of cinema vérité we see Stritch battle her own personal demons in the form her diabetes and the confrontation of her own mortality.

Opening with the star stating “I wish I could drive then I’d really be a fucking menace,” it is clear that in her late-eighties Stritch is more quick-witted and gutsy than ever, revelling in the childish delight of being playful and simply causing a bit of trouble. Director, Chiemi Karasawa’s ode to Stritch showcases her as many fans would expect – all singing, all dancing – a woman who adores the warmth of her audience and belts out Sondheim lyrics on the street. Talking head contributors Nathan Lane, John Turturro and Alec Baldwin (whom she dubs ‘Alec Joan Crawford Baldwin’) confirm the star’s brassy yet loveable demeanour.

However, it soon becomes clear that this confidence and outspokenness masks a deep inner struggle. There is a real poignancy in Karasawa’s depiction of Stritch battling her personal demons in the forms of her struggle with diabetes and the ageing process. Seeing Stritch losing her speech and coordination during a diabetes attack or the actress cancelling rehearsals due to lapses in memory resulting in her forgetting lyrics, are equally hard to watch. The actress reveals a real vulnerability and seeing her away from the stage, we are presented with a woman terrified of falling prey to her vices (Stritch notes that her biggest fear is alcohol) or ultimately her own mortality. But as the underlying theme of Shoot Me tells us Stritch is a trooper, a formidable foe against her fears and vices and one who will certainly not go down without a fight.

Packed with behind-the-scenes treats from Stritch’s illustrious career, we see archive footage of her fiery personality as she tries to master a track with Stephen Sondheim – a sequence which will delight musical theatre fans. Stritch reads a letter from Woody Allen before shooting September which shares the director’s concerns about Stritch being a challenge to work with, yet his excitement about doing so. Younger viewers will revel in seeing the filming of 30 Rock with contributions from Baldwin and Tina Fey adding to the glorious lovefest that is Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.

This is an often touchingly poignant and riotously funny glimpse into the life of much-loved Broadway icon, Elaine Stritch. Capturing both her glorious career and personal routine, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is an absorbing glimpse into the actresses life which showcases a surprising raw vulnerability but ultimately, an admirable strength and perseverance – as well as that much-loved fiery personality.

Also posted on The People’s Movies.

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