This affectionate tribute of the late great comic genius Gilda Radnor from filmmaker Lisa D’Apolito has the remarkable benefit of a surfeit of archival footage and also access to Radnor’s very moving journey. There are times when D’Apolito overwhelms us with some rapid montages from the past, but she can get away with it most of the time because her subject who was so universally popular, before her life was tragically cut short.
The story starts in Detroit where Radnor grew up in the 1950’s in an affluent family where she was the spoilt baby daughter. She was always performing with the doting father being her favorite audience, but her childhood was not without issues and at the age of 10 she was prescribed dexedrine to her control her weight problem.
Radnor seemed to fall in love easily, and one of her first serious crushes was with a Canadian sculptor who she dropped out of University for to get married and move to Toronto. Initially she has set her goal at being a homemaker but that dream soon faded and she found herself in the local cast of Godspell alongside Martin Short …… whom she also dated. Her first big break though came when John Belushi asked her to be the female foil in National Lampoon’s Lemmings in 1973. From then on, there was no looking back for Radnor.
When Lorne Michaels was casting his new comic TV review show which would become Saturday Night Live, Radnor was the very first person to be signed up. The show struggled to find its feet in the first few episodes but when it took off, so did Radnor’s star making her an overnight celebrity.
Some of the best parts of Love Gilda, are the host of wonderful clips of her playing all those monstrously funny characters on SNL that made her the undisputed star of the show. Like the wildly cantankerous Roseanne Roseannadanna, hyperactive Judy Miller, the old deaf Emily Litella and the head-cold nerd Lisa Loopner to name a few. She also seemed to date, or at least have a dalliance with several of her male co-stars, until that is, she met and fell for Gene Wilder. She then wrote in her journal that the main purpose of her life for the next two years was to get him to propose marriage
She succeeded and they enjoyed a very happy and successful union which is more than can be said about Wilder’s movie Haunted Honeymoon that they both starred in and which was savaged by the press and was a big box office failure. However what was to follow was so much worse than even that when Radnor was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, and then after a long battle with the illness, died at the age of just 42 years old.
D’Apolito succeeded in showing how relevant and perfect Radnor’s humor still is some 40 years later, and in many ways seems as fresh as when it was written. Also by having some contemporary funny women such as Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph read from Radnor’s journal was an inspired touch as even they had no real knowledge of what she went through as SNL’s first ever female star pioneering the way for them.
The movie never shies away from the dark side of Radnor’s realities especially of her battle with her weight that started in childhood and then developed into a very serious eating disorder that dogged her adult life. Notoriously thin, the ‘problem’ never affected her work, or was even known to a world who adored her for the sheer elation and joy that she brought with every single performance.
GIlda Radnor is still sorely missed, but this movie does help fill some of that gap.
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