- Movie Rating -

Lily Tomlin (1987)

| March 6, 1987

Just about the only thing that I knew about the documentary Lily Tomlin going in is that Tomlin and her partner Jane Wagner unsuccessfully sued to prevent this film from being show because it upstages the material in her one-woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligence Life in the Universe.”  What could they be afraid of, I wondered?  What could the film contain that they wouldn’t want to public to see.

Well, having seen the movie I can report that they have nothing to worry about.  Lily Tomlin is not much as far as a documentary goes.  Director Nick Bloomfield wants to show the blood, sweat and tears that go into the creative process of putting this show together, but there is very little of any of that provided here.  Lily Tomlin is a bland, very self-aware look at Tomlin back stage getting ready for the show.  The problem is that there isn’t really anything all that surprising.  Tomlin feels very guarded in this film, as if she knows that a camera is present and won’t do anything to diminish her image.

That’s a problem because a true documentary documents what is spontaneous and real.  I never got that here.  I know Tomlin’s show.  I’ve seen it on video.  I know that it was a major hit on Broadway when it opened in September 1985.  The film backs up a few years to show us the run-up to the opening, of how Tomlin went on the road to work material before an audience to see what worked and what did not.  The audience in those small venues know what she is doing and they are asked for their comments afterwards.  Then we travel backstage where the material is worked out.

Fine.  The problem is that I always felt that they knew the camera was in the room, that they didn’t want to tarnish their own images by saying or doing something that people may not like.  It feels rehearsed, or just carefully editing.  They’re on their best behavior and that’s a little frustrating.  To be honest, I didn’t care about this preparation stuff.  I was more interested in the show itself.  Tomlin is a fascinating woman, but this film doesn’t show her creative process.  It is a self-aware, very carefully packaged film that teaches you nothing about this woman, the show or the process.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary