‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’: a bittersweet look back
A 3.5-star review of the documentary about performer Elaine Stritch, who, at 88, has not mellowed.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,’ a documentary directed by Chiemi Karasawa. 81 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Sundance Cinemas.
“You can’t make fun of it until you’ve seen it,” says a backstage assistant, chiding Elaine Stritch for criticizing the musical “The Book of Mormon.” Stritch, who at 88 still seems like she could turn wine to vinegar with one glance, is having none of it. “That’s your story,” she replies.
Chiemi Karasawa’s documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” follows the Broadway legend through a year or so in her life, letting us see her tartly field phone calls in the hotel suite she calls home, march through Central Park in her trademark fur coat and black tights, shoot a few scenes for “30 Rock” (with the man she calls “Alec ‘Joan Crawford’ Baldwin”) and reminisce about her eventful life and career. And, throughout, she rehearses and performs her one-woman show of Stephen Sondheim songs — getting frustrated and petulant in rehearsal when she struggles to remember lyrics, and transforming in front of an audience. (Her delivery, in performance, of the lyric “It’s alarming how charming I feel,” is worth the ticket price right there.)
Though “Shoot Me” follows the outlines of a cheerful looking-back-on-a-glorious-career documentary, it’s actually quite melancholy in places: Stritch, who struggles with diabetes and alcoholism, is physically much frailer than her wry persona would indicate. And an undercurrent throughout the film is a painful question: How do you know when it’s time to dim the lights and leave the stage? Stritch talks about retirement but for most of the film dismisses it. “I feel better when I work,” she says.
Since the film’s production, Stritch has retired and moved back to her hometown, Detroit. (She hasn’t mellowed: Back in New York to promote this film, she dropped an F-bomb on the “Today” show last month.) You watch “Shoot Me” wishing this woman could keep sashaying through her showbiz life forever, telling dogs to “look at me when I’m talking to you,” greeting friends with “Your hair looks good for a change,” and keeping everyone but her audiences at arm’s length. At one point, she gazes directly into the camera and demands, “Don’t you think you’re awfully close to me?” The operator, obligingly, backs away.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org