SIFF Advance: LOVE, GILDA

Directing: B-
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

It's difficult to say how much interest Love, Gilda will have to anyone besides hardcore fans -- of Gilda Radner herself, of course; beyond that, perhaps of early Saturday Night Live, on which this documentary places a large focus. We may very well be at a time when younger people don't even know who Gilda Radner was. She passed away in 1989, after all, and people born after her death are now old enough to have grown up, gotten married and started families. Or embarked an extended period of adolescent behavior, I suppose.

It would be nice for them to get to know Radner a little, what an infectious presence she had, the way she inspired others. Plenty of present-day celebrities and Saturday Night Live alumni -- most of them from within the past twenty years -- are interviewed; only one (Cecily Strong) a current cast member. It's still fun, certainly, to see the likes of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy and more given a chance to hold and read Gilda Radner's original handwritten diaries. Hader calls it, fairly earnestly, "an honor."

It would also be great, of course, for people who only have a vague idea of who Gilda Radner is to get a sense of her innate talent, how funny she really was. Curiously, first-time feature director Lisa Dapolito doesn't show us much of this. Plenty of clips of Radner's performances can be found elsewhere, sure, but in a documentary about the trajectory of her career and tragic end of her life, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

On the flip side, anyone who did know Gilda Radner's work very well is bound to be absorbed by Love, Gilda. Granted, they could just as easily be so taken by it on a streaming platform like HBO or Netflix, where this film would honestly fit better than at your local movie theatre. Radner was a great woman, examined here in a merely decent movie, which doesn't really warrant an outing.

Love, Gilda feels like the best a director could do with what she had to work with. There are some good "gets" as interview subjects (Chevy Chase, Martin Short) and even some good archival interview footage of Radner's husband at the time she died, Gene Wilder. There remains the vague feeling of something missing, something not quite painting a full picture. Perhaps there could have been interviews with her actual family.

As such, Love, Gilda is pleasant enough, a passable look at a wonderful comedic performer, certainly not a waste of time but not especially vital viewing either. If nothing else, it will leave you with a lasting impression of the beautiful smile of a woman who clearly felt immense joy in the work she did.

  An incomplete but loving tribute.

An incomplete but loving tribute.

Overall: B