Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Runs Fri., March 7–Thurs., March 13 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 80 minutes.
The core audience for this showbiz documentary is self-selecting: If you’ve heard of the Broadway legend, age 87 at the time of filming, then you will go see the movie and be entirely delighted. Produced by Alec Baldwin, an admirer who played Stritch’s son on 30 Rock, this is emphatically a tribute to old-school musical-theater prowess. Caustic, profane, and generally averse to self-pity, Stritch is a woman whose fame never reached far beyond the Hudson. Her cabaret residencies at the Carlyle and interpretations of Sondheim endeared her to a certain kind of fan; and those fans are fading along with their alcoholic, diabetic doyenne.
Still, it’s not all sadness and nostalgia as Stritch prepares for a new show (all Sondheim, natch), grudgingly tolerates the camera of director Chiemi Karasawa, and collects praise from her Broadway epigones (Baldwin, Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, James Gandolfini, etc.). She wears her legend blithely, but never lets you forget she’s a legend. Her photo albums and polished stories are suitably glamorous (JFK tries and fails to seduce her), yet this is equally a portrait of aging—of working to the end, of the structure and dignity that work provides. We see this trouper’s slips in rehearsal and watch her tell the audience, “If I forget my lyrics, fuck it!”
Now 89, Stritch has no children; her assistants, AA buddies, and band compose her family. There can be no larger-than-life stars without such patient devotion. In this affectionate profile of a wonderfully cranky old broad, Karasawa is careful to veer her camera toward those just outside the spotlight. Stritch’s music director, Rob Bowman, for instance, vamps at the piano while she grasps for a lyric—mugging quite effectively to the audience, it must be said—and later gets the satisfaction of reading Stephen Holden’s review in the Times. Not all of us can make showbiz history, but some can still be a part of it.