REVIEW: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

17 07 2014

Elaine StritchJust last weekend, I curled up in bed with my laptop to watch “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” on Netflix.  I found myself pleasantly entertained, but in the midst of an onslaught of new releases, I didn’t have a chance to bang out a quick review.  Then, I was checking the news at work this morning and saw the sad news that Elaine Stritch had passed away at the age of 89.

Suddenly, a review the documentary that had her at its center felt like the most important thing for me to write.  Though I may have to write in a different tense about Stritch’s life now, her legacy lives on and will certainly never be forgotten.  “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” gives Stritch the proper bow for her twilight years, and fans of an old era of Broadway stars will no doubt find it rousing.

Chiemi Karasawa’s film captures some of her final years as she prepares for a swan song cabaret of Steven Sondheim’s classic tunes.  Her camera catches the infamously blunt Stritch at her most cantankerously acerbic best on many an occasion, generating quite a few great laughs.  But as Tina Fey puts it, people are willing to put up with her curmudgeonly charm because she’s so great at what she does.

Karasawa does a great job of showing Stritch’s incredible work ethic.  Even though disease and age hampered Stritch from being at full capacity, she still pushed herself to play a recurring role on “30 Rock” and give her fans one last chance to see her perform live.  The back half of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” consists of mostly watching Stritch belt out some Broadway melodies, a delight for fans of musical theater (and likely a bore for anyone else).

The true strength of the documentary, though, is not watching Stritch’s pantless performances.  “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” is so much more than filmed theater; it’s a look at a performer confronting her own mortality.  Stritch preferred to say that she was not getting old – she was getting older, just like everyone else.  She approached the prospect of her aging with humor in public, often quoting Bette Davis’ maxim “getting old is not for sissies.”

Karasawa’s extreme close-ups, however, penetrate deeply into Stritch’s psyche and show a startling vulnerability.  These moments are nothing short of stirring as they reveal her deep fears of disappointing her audience.  Fans of Stritch will undoubtedly be moved by seeing a consummate actress let her guard down.  Playing herself was perhaps the most gripping part she ever had.  B+3stars


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