To this generation, Elaine Stritch is probably best known for playing Alec Baldwin’s overbearing mother on “30 Rock.” Before she was Colleen Donaghy, however, Stritch already had quite the résumé. In a showbiz career that’s now spanned roughly seven decades, she’s done it all, from movies, to television, to radio, to cabaret. Stritch cemented herself as a performing legend on the Broadway stage, starring in countless plays and finally winning a Tony for her one-woman show back in 2002.
As you might have guessed, Stritch is the focus of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” the debut documentary feature from Chiemi Karasawa. Whether or not you’ll like the film all relies on how much you like Elaine Stritch as a human being. As far as I’m concerned, the notion of somebody not enjoying Stritch’s company is inconceivable. Her various friends, assistants, and colleagues, which includes Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones, and the late James Gandolfini, seem to agree.
Stritch has always stood out with her eccentric wardrobe of hats, ties, and furs, but no pants. She’s also clearly the most outgoing 87-year-old actress working today. Completely unapologetic, she isn’t afraid to say exactly what’s on her mind to the camera. We get a lot of hilarious incites into Stritch’s personal life as she reminisces of meeting JFK and experiencing her first orgasm. While stocking and sometimes unpredictable, Stritch mainly comes off as a loving individual who cares deeply for the people in her life and the people she’s lost.
The life of the party in public and a riot on stage, one might assume that Stritch could keep going with no end in sight. The sad truth is that Stritch’s age and diabetes have taken a toll on her health in recent years. Being an on again, off again alcoholic hasn’t helped. There are several brave moments when Stritch lets down her defenses and reveals how tired she’s become. Stritch has accepted that her death is inevitable. But that still doesn’t stop her from getting back on stage and putting her own unique spin on “I Feel Pretty.”
Stritch plans to retire in 2014, or 2015, or 2016, or 2017, or 2018. One can only hope Stritch lives forever and keeps performing until the end of time. When Stritch does leave this earth, though, at least she’ll be leaving behind a rich body of work and a film that encourages us all to live life to the fullest. Stritch further reminds us that dying is easy, but comedy is hard.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.