The life of Gilda Radner
‘Love, Gilda’ traces the life of Gilda Radner, one of the seven original cast members of Saturday Night Live
Directed by Lisa D’Apolito
Starring Andrew Alexander, Anne Beats, Chevy Chase
Love, Gilda traces the life of the late Gilda Radner, an American comedian most famous for being one of the seven original cast members of Saturday Night Live. The film begins with insight into Radner’s childhood in Detroit and ends with a poignant documentation of Radner’s fight with ovarian cancer, which ultimately led to her early death. The film heavily focuses on Radner’s career, which began in high school and college theater and peaked in the 1970s as Radner shone on Saturday Night Live. The film truly captures her bubbly, captivating, and radiant personality. That being said, it treads very lightly on some of Radner’s more serious issues, such as the untimely death of her father and her struggles with bulimia.
All of this — the positives and negatives of Radner’s life — is presented through an artful collection of Radner’s home videos, television appearances, excerpts from Radner’s personal journal, and cameos by Radner’s friends and current comedians inspired by Radner, such as Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph.
As someone more familiar with the Colin Jost and Kate McKinnon era of Saturday Night Live, I appreciated these cameos. They provided strong insight on the impact of Radner’s unfortunately short career. Being born decades after the peak of Radner’s SNL prominence, my understanding of Gilda Radner’s personality was heavily reliant on Love, Gilda and the home videos and excerpts chosen to represent her in the film. The film did a phenomenal job of highlighting her exuberant, endearing personality, and I was invested and engaged throughout.
That being said, the levity of the film was simultaneously refreshing and off-putting. Serious details of Radner’s life, such as the death of her father when she was only 14, the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated field, and her struggle with bulimia later in life, were very much glossed over. There is a fine line between levity and severity, and Love, Gilda erred very much on the side of caution when dealing with it.
But what can you expect from a documentary about a woman who relied heavily on comedy to be in control of her life, especially during some of her darkest moments? What can you expect from the first comedian to make jokes about cancer on national television?
Delving deeper into Radner’s personal problems and dwelling on negative emotions could have led to a more scandalous, heart wrenching version of the documentary, but it may have been as emblematic of Radner’s life and legacy.
I naively hoped that Radner’s charm and euphoria were authentic, and she was as joyful in life as she was presented in the film. I can’t help but pessimistically wonder if comedy was simply a facade for Radner, and in reality she was deeply troubled and dissatisfied. I am realistically assuming that the truth is somewhere in the middle while acknowledging that the film leans heavily towards the former.