Hot Docs Review: Leave Them Laughing [2010, John Zaritsky]

After the disappointment of the very cardboard documentary about the Magnetic Fields, I switched gears entirely to Leave Them Laughing, a documentary featuring one-woman entertainment machine (and Canadian) Carla Zilbersmith. A lead singer, comedienne, actress, teacher, and mother, her rapid deterioration to Lou Gehrig’s Disease sucks you in. In the first few minutes of the film I had written her off as a saucier, iller Rita Rudner but there are truly funny and genuine moments in this doc, regardless of how cliched they are.

Again, I reiterate that the reason this film (somewhat) works is because of Zilbersmith’s willingness to bear it all on camera. Her greatest fears seem real, her relationship with her son is unique, and even her most gaggingly “Bucket List” moments engage us. She has a wicked sense of humor throughout, peppered inbetween a horribly long-running routine about her world condom collection.

35% of the film features  nauseating triteness. There’s the bitter divorce routine (her husband left her for a 20-something before she was diagnosed) where she tosses her wedding ring into the ocean with a bunch of girlfriends, the “I need to have sex too” routine (which I admit sounded a little too close to home),  the tender moments with the teenage son who’s taking care of her (“life isn’t fair but don’t let this disappointing moment define you”), and her last bow routine (during her final live musical performance).

There are a couple of moments that surprised me.  Most notably her tongue-in-cheek trek to the Holy Land Experience, where she jokingly wants to present the Jesus performer with a heart shaped box of chocolates and a seasonal teddy bear, only to break down in tears when the Sheppard Girl is so touched by her story she fails to pick up on the joke. There is also her hilarious blog, which her son now updates. It seems Carla is on her last leg, and her ability to laugh at herself while calling herself a dried out cripple is pretty admirable.

Leave Them Laughing is co-presented with ALS Society of Ontario and is showing on:

Thu, May 06 9:15 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sat, May 08 3:15 pm, Bloor Cinema

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Posted on by Allison in Everything, Hot Docs

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