A showbiz legend gets profiled in the documentary "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me." Credit: Sundance Selects
'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me' Director: Chiemi Karasawa Genre: Documentary Rating: NR 3 (out of 5) Globes
Elaine Stritch has made waves recently for speaking her mind, which has included swearing on live television. To say that, at 89, she no longer cares whose toes she steps on would imply that she ever did. As the doc “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” reveals — to the few who didn’t already know it — she’s always lived her life as though she had nothing to lose. She’s made a career and reputation out of being bluntly honest, and therefore often “difficult.” She might have had a rough career had she not had the talent to back up her tough talk.
Centered around the showbiz legend doing what she has long threatened — that is, moving out of New York City, where she’s long been an institution — “Shoot Me” paints a loving but prickly and honest portrait of someone who’s never been less than honest, if sometimes to a fault. (This doesn't, however, mean she is retiring.) Since her Tony-winning show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” she’s been honest about her illnesses and her alcoholism. (She was sober for over two decades, and today enjoys — and really enjoys, it seems — a daily cocktail.)
“Shoot Me” is a continuation of everything she’s worked for, only with voices other than her own allowed in. What all of her talking heads — including Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, who played her son on “30 Rock,” and Stephen Sondheim, who wrote her signature tune “The Ladies Who Lunch” for her — have in common is a mix of love and weariness. Their testimonies are almost verbatim: Elaine Stritch can be a pain, but she is definitely worth it — a statement said through apparent shellshock. Stritch even gives the filmmakers a hard time, at one point snipping at the cameraman for pushing the camera too close to her. James Gandolfini swings by to say, with a huge smile, that, had they come through the ranks at the same time, “We would have had a torrid love affair that would have ended badly.”
Such comments aren’t little character assassinations; they’re part of what makes her unique and great. And Stritch is more sweet than salty. She tells it like it is, but she’s no blowhard, and most of what “it” is to her is positive. She’s a lifeforce whose every interaction takes on the quality of a roller coaster. Stritch is such an open performer that anything she’s done, even the occasional fiction film — including Alain Resnais’ excellent, hard-to-find 1977 art film “Providence,” which paired her with greats like John Gielgud and Dirk Bogarde — can't help but have chunks of the real Stritch in it. “Shoot Me” isn’t the last word on its subject, nor wants to be. But anything with Stritch is inevitably, to a point, priceless.