Watching comedian Gilda Radner, you can’t help but admire her talent, adore her many characters, and fall in love with her all at the same time. At eight-years-old, I’d stay up late on a Saturday night to watch Saturday Night Live (usually making it only to midnight) and marvel at Radner’s amazing characters Rosanne Rosannadanna, Lisa Loopner, and Emily Litella.
Saturday Night Live made stars. Everyone from that original cast went on to some form of greatness. I could name them all, but the most charismatic and engaging member arguably was Gilda Radner. Director Lisa Diapolito’s documentary Love Gilda tells the life story of Radner broken into four parts: her childhood, finding comedy, becoming famous, and living with cancer.
Her story is beautifully told using source material that includes diaries, audiotape, 8mm film, videotapes, her Broadway show, autobiography and testimonies from her comedic colleagues, family, and comedians she influenced. While I’ve seen her performances on film and read her book separately, Diapolito stitches these fragments together to tell a cohesive and compelling portrait of Radner’s personal life and her approach to the craft of comedy.
“…life story of Radner…her childhood, finding comedy, becoming famous, and living with cancer.”
Early on Radner religiously kept a diary. A practice that carried itself into adulthood, and even as a child she was highly introspective and insightful about life bringing and oddly inspiring perspective to it. The doc opens with Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Cecily Strong, and Maya Rudolph reading through Radner’s early entries producing several moments of comedians crying.
As a child, Gilda was born into a loving family. Her father was over fifty-years-old when she was born, but he loved her nonetheless. She was a voracious snacker and was a chubby child. Her mother put her on Dexedrine and other diet medications to control her weight with little success. At school, before the bullies had a chance to make fun of her weight, she beat them to the punch by acknowledging her appearance and making a joke. This was her first lesson in comedy—Pointing out the truth before they can use it against you.
Hardship came when her father passed away from a brain tumor. The loss of her father left a large void in her life. Gilda had many boyfriends filling that void with love. Being in love was her great motivation. Her friendly personality made it easy to fall in love with her.
“Gilda Radner had a lot of friends, and these friends loved talking about her…”
It is here Love Gilda follows her career starring in the Toronto production of Godspell, moving to New York and booking Saturday Night Live, and then to movies. The fast-paced celebrity life leads her down the inevitable path of depression and drugs.
The doc ends with her finding solitude from the harshness of life with her husband Gene Wilder, her successful battle against cancer; and her tragic passing from its return. Love Gilda paints a vivid image of Gilda Radner, a person who was just like us and choose to take life in a positive direction. Diapolito does more than string together the events of her life, these events are given emotional weight when told by the friends and family who knew her the best. Gilda Radner had a lot of friends, and these friends loved talking about her.
Love Gilda is one of those documentaries that will make you laugh, touch your heart, and inspire to make the most of your life without fear.
Love Gilda (2018) Directed by Lisa Diapolito. Featuring Chevy Chase, Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Lorne Michaels, Amy Poehler, Stephen Schwartz.
9 out of 10 stars