Jul 20

“Tig”: Documenting On Film a Resilient Comic Force

I’m the luckiest unlucky person. Tig Notaro

A few years ago, before Tig Notaro went through a slew of major life challenges (see previous post), she wasn’t that well known as a standup comic. But how she ultimately handled those challenges is what’s eventually set her apart as a performer and strongly boosted her appeal.

Jada Yuan, Vulture, sets up the new documentary Tig that premiered on Netflix last week:

In an ironic twist of fate, comedian Tig Notaro’s life started looking up from the moment she got onstage at the Largo comedy club in Los Angeles in October 2012 and announced, ‘Good evening, I have cancer.’ Before that funny-poignant set — highly praised by Louis C.K. and other comics — Notaro, 43, had endured a life-threatening infection, the sudden death of her mother, a breakup, and a diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer, requiring a double mastectomy. Filmmakers Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York talked Notaro into letting them follow her around for a year as she got back on her feet and prepared for an anniversary stand-up show at the Largo in October 2014. Along the way, Notaro tried to have a baby on her own, found love, and perfected a joke about her breasts getting so sick of her referring to her flat-chestedness that they tried to kill her.

Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times, differs on the doc’s time span—she says two years—and adds that “the movie offers an intimate portrayal of a woman whose career is exploding while everything else seems to be imploding. Known for deadpan delivery, Notaro takes viewers on a bluntly honest journey through her travails. She may not shed any tears, but the stuff she’s talking about feels scary and raw and important.”

The love of her life is Stephanie Allynne, an actress who Notaro met on the set of an earlier movie. “But Allynne,” states Kaufman, “made it clear she was straight. So it was difficult — even for the filmmakers — to see Notaro setting herself up for what seemed like more heartbreak.”

Long story short, Allynne eventually eschewed previous ideas about her own sexual orientation—and she and Tig are now engaged to be married. Also, Tig’s no longer alone in her pursuit of having kids.

Jason Zinoman, New York Times:

What begins as a moody portrait of tragedy turns into a narrative that resembles a lovely, if somewhat mundane, romantic comedy. The structure is similar to her recent show (a version of which will appear on HBO in August), in which she took off her shirt to show the audience her scars, only to continue telling jokes topless and let her routine retake the focus. Like Ms. Notaro’s act, ‘Tig’ chronicles her struggle with cancer, then shows her triumph over it by returning to something that looks normal. It’s the smile at the end of a deadpan punch line.

Check out the trailer here:

According to Yuan, next year Notaro will also be publishing a memoir. As is so often the case, the writing process, she says, has been “therapeutic.”

Nov 23

“Pieces of April”: A Young “Black Sheep” Hosts Thanksgiving Dinner

The first of three dysfunctional-family Thanksgiving movies that I’ve liked and will be posting about this week is the low-budget Pieces of April (2003).

April Burns (Katie Holmes), a 21-year-old with a new (African-American) boyfriend, is the “black sheep” of her white suburban family and estranged from them. The film’s tagline: She’s the one in every family.

April tries to explain her place in the family to a couple of her new neighbors:

April: I’m the first pancake.
Evette: What do you mean?
Eugene: She’s the one you’re supposed to throw out.

Knowing that her mom is receiving treatment for late-stage breast cancer, April decides to ask her family to her little apartment—that happens to be in a poor neighborhood of New York—for Thanksgiving. Her parents (Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson), along with her brother, sister, and maternal grandmother drive from Pennsylvania, all the while regarding the pending reunion with suspicion and skepticism.

View the trailer below:

Author Jeffrey Overstreet says, “this little miracle of a movie…reminds us of how crucial it is that we appreciate and love each other in spite of our failures, grudges, and disappointments.” Because, in the process of April bungling the preparations involved for her first-ever hosting of Thanksgiving, she at least comes to know, care for, and find a place within her “family” of previously-unknown neighbors…And, ultimately, maybe her other family as well.

Film critic Roger Ebert: “‘Pieces of April’ has a lot of joy and quirkiness; it’s well-intentioned in its screwy way, with flashes of human insight, and actors who can take a moment and make it glow.”