Movie Review: ‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’

    Tony and Emmy Award winner Elaine Stritch in the documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.” (Courtesy of Smart Broad Films)

    Elaine Stritch won the Tony and Emmy Awards along with legions of fans for her incomparable Broadway and cabaret work. The modest but loyal viewers of “30 Rock” were probably also grateful to her for classing up the joint with her regular guest appearances.

    Even if more critics than viewers followed the show, at least Chiemi Karasawa could enlist Alec Baldwin as a co-executive producer for her documentary profile, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” which screens as a Spotlight selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

    Elaine Stritch appeared in a Broadway production of “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi and also introduced the world to “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Stritch’s brassy, acerbic performing style has made her the pre-eminent interpreter of the Sondheim songbook. Without question, they are one of the truly great vocalist-lyricist tandems.

    Anyone who tackles “Ladies” stands in her long shadow. (Cassandra Wilson’s rendition was perhaps the shrewdest, cranking the tune down on Don Byron’s “Fine Line” album.) However, as Stritch begins rehearsals with her supportive music director, Rob Bowman, she starts having trouble.

    A documentary like “Shoot Me” necessarily involves a delicate balance. Fans will want to see the wise-cracking, “Ladies”-belting Stritch they adore from her shows. Yet, cinema patrons have an expectation of on-screen drama and a desire to peek underneath the public persona.

    Karasawa finds a nice balance, including plenty of Stritch’s zingers but not ignoring the challenges she faced over the course of a difficult year. As a result, viewers will be awed by Stritch’s sheer grit as she guts out one show after another.

    As presented by Karasawa, Stritch might be one of the coolest show-business figures ever. There is absolutely no pretense with her. She will tell people exactly what she thinks and make them laugh even when the truth hurts. It also seems like she treats her musicians well, which is always telling.

    Karasawa takes a pretty traditional, observational talking-head approach, but she gives the audience what it wants, letting Stritch have her full say. Wickedly tart but at times also surprisingly touching, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” is highly recommended for Stritch, Broadway, and cabaret fans when it screens during this year’s Tribeca Film festival.

    Tribeca ’13: ‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’

    Director: Chiemi Karasawa
    Cast: Rob Bowman, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini
    Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
    4 stars

    Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit http://jbspins.blogspot.com

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