Gilda Radner was poised for a documentary about her life in a number of ways. She kept written journals, she recorded autobiographical audiotapes, she was filmed in home movies in childhood in Detroit, and she was filmed on television and in movies. She even filmed herself in chemotherapy.
Director Lisa Dapolito puts all those biographical resources to good use, exploiting them to tell again the story of Gilda Radner. Born to wealthy parents, including a father in his 50s, she grew up in Detroit. At her girls’ high school, she joined the drama club, and like many another budding actress, she blossomed.
Radner went to college, left to follow a boyfriend to Toronto, and found her way back on stage, where she found herself. From there, Radner went to Second City, National Lampoon, and Saturday Night Live. Movies followed her stint as a thousand beloved characters, many based on her childhood.
Dapolito films comedians, such as Melissa McCarthy, Bill Hader, and Amy Poehler, reading Radner’s journals and flipping through her scrapbooks. Each is near tears. Dapolito also makes excellent use of old stills and old film from Radner’s life, from fat girl to anorexic woman. Dapolito cradles images of Radner on SNL and often shows Radner’s writing as if it were being inscribed for the first time, especially the titular sign-off, Love, Gilda.
Dapolito interviews SNL’s Lorne Michaels, Radner’s brother Michael, her iconic colleagues. Martin Short, Radner’s old boyfriend, is there, and her second husband, Gene Wilder, is shown loving her to death. After Radner dies of ovarian cancer, Dapolito cleverly insinuates montages of characters created by Gilda Radner to show that she lives.
“Love, Gilda” is impressive, holding attention not just for nostalgia but for a life full and funny and fitful.
I’m Martha K. Baker. From the Grand Center Arts District, this is 88.1, KDHX, St. Louis.
EDITORS NOTE: You may also be interested in reading Nell Minow’s interview Lisa Dapolito, director of Love Gilda.