Love, Gilda

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Love, Gilda Movie Poster Image
Earnest documentary gives beloved comic legend her due.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 88 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Positive themes include perseverance, courage, comedy's place as a truth-telling mechanism, the power of media representation. Struggles women face in the comedy world are explored at length. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Radner was a talented, powerful woman who served as a symbol for many young comics; the film reveals her to have also been vulnerable and lovable. Friends and family affectionately recall stories about Gilda that illustrate both her flaws and her successes. She had a bigger body type when she was younger; she tells a few fat jokes during the movie, and viewers learn of her struggles with an eating disorder.

Violence

Jokes can lean toward the macabre, like one in which Howdy Doody commits suicide. Radner ultimately dies of cancer, and viewers see her illness progressing, with her getting thinner and more drawn. 

Sex

Some jokes target sex, like a skit in which a man and woman wake up together in bed and rate how the previous night was for each of them. A man's nude buttocks are seen in a vintage photo as he showers. 

Language

Swearing includes "hell," "s--t," "f--k," and "f---er." Some jokes include vulgar language: During a comedy sketch, a man calls a woman "you cow!" and one woman calls another "bitch!" 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Radner talks briefly about taking Dexedrine as a diet pill when she was 10. She and others are shown smoking cigarettes in vintage photos and videos. She talks about "needing" to drink a beer before going onstage.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Love, Gilda is a documentary about the legacy of Gilda Radner. Radner was a comic at a time when not many women entered the profession, so her story offers viewers an example of perseverance, courage, and the power of representation in media. Some jokes may raise a few eyebrows, like a skit in which a man and woman wake up seemingly nude in bed and discuss how "it" was for both of them, or a sketch in which Howdy Doody has died via suicide. Language is infrequent but includes "hell," "s--t," "f--k," and "bitch." There's a brief moment of nonsexual nudity in which a man's nude buttocks are visible in a photo. Vintage video and photos depict smoking, and Radner mentions that she was given Dexedrine as a diet pill when she was a child. The film also discusses Radner's eating disorder and shows her declining during her ultimately fatal battle with cancer.

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What's the story?

LOVE, GILDA shines a spotlight on the life of groundbreaking comic and actress Gilda Radner. Using a wealth of vintage footage -- TV interviews, movie performances, Saturday Night Live sketches, home movies -- and interviews with current comic greats like Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, and Amy Poehler, the documentary paints a whimsical, moving portrait of a performer who left the world laughing and was gone far too soon. 

Is it any good?

As funny, tender, and ultimately heartbreaking as its subject, this earnest documentary traces a life well lived, if sadly cut short. Filmmaker Lisa D'Apolito must have been excited to find that Radner kept a lifelong diary and that her family used a film camera to record young Gilda's antics. Scenes in which the bright-eyed young girl hams it up in her backyard make it clear that Radner had a comedic fire in her belly from an early age. And, of course, there's plenty of footage from Radner's SNL years, which aptly illustrate both her comic timing and the impact she made in a traditionally male field at a particularly hot moment for American feminism. 

One of the strongest points that Love, Gilda makes is how powerful Radner's representation was for today's female comedy stars. "I basically stole all my characters from Gilda," says Poehler. And "Sometimes I wonder if it's why I'm so physical because I just grew up watching her so intensely," says McCarthy. Even more movingly, viewers learn that Radner was hospitalized for an (unspecified) eating disorder, struggled with feelings of worthlessness, and that she and Gene Wilder fell madly in love almost immediately upon meeting and stayed that way through the end of her life. There are few surprises in this biography for Radner's fans. But for them, getting to spend a few more moments with this luminous, enchanting comic will be enough. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the purpose of Love, Gilda. Was it made by one of her fans? Does it leave you admiring or pitying Radner -- or both? 

  • Radner's comedy, particularly on Saturday Night Live, dealt with some pretty racy content over the years and often relied on stereotypes for humor. What makes something funny rather than offensive? Why do some people interpret comedy one way and some another?

  • How did Radner demonstrate courage and perseverance in her life? Why are those important character strengths?

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