If you know Elaine Stritch only for her Emmy-winning role as Alec Baldwin’s trash-talking mother on 30 Rock, you’re in for a surprise and a hell of a show. This dazzling diva of stage, screen and cabaret gets the dynamite documentary she deserves in Chiemi Karasawa’s Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.
In 2011, the gifted Karasawa and her crew started following Stritch, then 86, still performing but preparing to pack it in and return to her Michigan hometown. No way does the acerbic, tell-it-like-it-is Stritch plan to go gentle. She pulls no punches about her bouts with alcoholism, diabetes and aging. Her words sting a cameraman: “Don’t you think you’re awfully close to me, Shane? This isn’t a skin commercial.”
Stritch talks of nerves, but archival footage shows her in full command of an audience in youth and age. To hear Stritch belt “The Ladies Who Lunch,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company, is to hear it for keeps. Interviews with Baldwin, Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, James Gandolfini and Stritch’s musical director Rob Bowman reveal a holy terror and an irreplaceable talent. Other scenes – onstage forgetting lyrics or in a hospital bed considering her vulnerability – dig deep into this convent-girl-turned-Broadway-baby.
There’s no begging for sympathy. Not once. Stritch faces down her demons. So cheers to a movie as gloriously entertaining and bluntly honest as the lady herself. Everybody rise.