[FDF] WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH (85 NR)

[FDF] WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH

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Rose Marie, the untold story of fame, love, tragedy and 90 years of American entertainment through the eyes of the woman who did it all.

Director: Jason Wise
Writers: Christina Tucker, Jason Wise
Stars: Perry Botkin Jr., Deacon Conroy, Tim Conway

REVIEW

Rose Marie has been famous for so long that “Wait for Your Laugh,” a charming documentary about her nine decades as a performer, doubles as a history of 20th-century show business, focusing on vaudeville, early radio comedy, the birth of Las Vegas and the evolution of the female sitcom star.

Now 94, Rose Marie, who proudly asserts that she went by her first name before any other celebrity, started singing for crowds at the age of 3, pairing an adorable child’s face with the brassy belt of a grizzled diva. That distinctive voice would later become a terrific vehicle for punch lines. After gaining fame onstage, where she sang a duet with Evelyn Nesbit (the chorus girl whose husband killed the architect Stanford White, setting off a media circus), she moved to radio, film and most notably television. There she co-starred as a wisecracking comedy writer on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and later for many years on “Hollywood Squares.” In between the successes of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, Rose Marie, this movie argues, was one of the most important female comic voices in America.

Carl Reiner and Mr. Van Dyke provide colorful personal testimony about working with her — and Dan Harmon, the creator of “Community,” displays an insightful critic’s eye — but the heart of this movie is Rose Marie talking you through her own life with the same attention to pleasing the audience as she shows onstage. Her steely good cheer is good company as she relates taut, action-packed stories about run-ins with Al Capone and Jimmy Durante with a minimum of introspection.

Jason Wise’s documentary, which relies on re-enactments and backstage footage with sparing use of performances, is a love letter to the performer but not the business, in which she managed to achieve a measure of fame for nine decades, while still being overlooked. Her single-minded focus on work is presented as admirable but also something of a curse. As in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” this is a movie about a star never at peace unless she’s performing.

-Neil Berkeley, NY TIMES