This is a review of a film I saw through Fathom Events, a series I don’t normally attend, much less review. However, I feel it’s essential you see this film whether it be during a subsequent theatrical release, on a streaming service, or as a rental through iTunes or Amazon in the coming months. As someone who has always been a fan of the film’s subject and has followed her journey, there’s so much information in this film that I would have never imagined was true. But it all happened, and it ruined a great comedian’s life. It’s a cautionary tale and a story of a fierce American hero who will never back down. And it’s the most I’ve laughed in a movie theater, or at all, this year.
Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story follows the successful comedian who became infamous in May 2017, after a photo shoot went viral that included her holding up a likeness of Donald Trump’s severed head. It was a mask with ketchup all over it. It was intended as not only a joke but a critique on Trump’s debate comments regarding Megyn Kelly. And it ruined her entire life. Everything she’d worked her whole life for had disappeared overnight. After being put through what she calls the ‘Trump wood chipper,’ she lost every endorsement and standup gig she had scheduled. Not only the right turned on her, but the left too, including people she never thought would betray her. She and her family received death threats daily. She lost her career, her friends, and she even lost relationships with the majority of her family.
But, you can’t keep a woman like Kathy Griffin down. After a month or so of regrouping, she embarked on a worldwide tour, where she hit thirty-five cities in fifteen countries. She was detained in every airport and was subjected to horrendous cruelty in every corner of the world. But instead of backing down and allowing the alt-right to make an example of her, she has become a first amendment and civil rights warrior, ensuring that this kind of thing does not happen to anyone else ever again.
The film is structured as a documentary/standup concert film. The first half-hour or so is a documentary, to bring the viewer up to speed on exactly where Griffin is in her life at this very point – and then there’s the show. In the ninety minutes or so of standup comedy, Griffin zealously blasts through anecdotes, jokes and truly dark stories about what this controversy has forced her to endure, and what she has evolved to in the aftermath. The original set from her Laugh Your Head Off tour is apparently over three hours long, and I would have happily watched the whole thing.
In my opinion, the most impressive thing about Kathy Griffin is her fearlessness and perseverance. After being put through hell, the whole thing has given the 58-year-old comedian a spring in her step. She’s always been breathlessly snappy and energetic, but she’s on another level now. She’s played this controversy better than anyone else could have, and she’s worked so hard to come out at the other end a stronger and more enlightened and powerful individual.
While Kathy is blasting through information onstage, she does not mince words and ensures the viewer knows exactly how grim this whole thing was. While her voice wavers and cracks when she talks about how her terminally ill sister received death threats in the hospital until the day she died, it’s quickly onto the next thing. This never goes from standup special to TED Talk in the way Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette did last year. Instead, Griffin finds a way to mesh the two together in her own very enthusiastic and also incredibly powerful way.
In conclusion, this is the story of a true patriot who will never compromise, and one of the most hilarious films we’ll see all year. I saw Griffin live in my city mere months before the controversy unfolded and the remainder of her American tour was canceled. She played for two and a half hours with barely a moment to catch her own breath. She’s always been a comic who more than anything wants to make the audience laugh and feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth. And we need her now more than ever. Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story is the perfect tonic for current near-dystopian America and an uncompromising look at a comedic powerhouse who will never stand down.
Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story will be available for purchase on iTunes and other streaming platforms beginning August 13th, 2019.