Joan Rivers and Friends Salute Heidi Abromowitz (1985) ****
Joan Molinsky (alias Rivers) appears as herself in this Showtime comedy special about a star-studded Las Vegas tribute to notorious (fictional) nymphomaniac Heidi Abromowitz. A veritable constellation of A-and B-level celebrities is in attendance to toast this tart, “the biggest tramp since Charlie Chaplin”. The only problem is that nobody can find her, so that cantankerous hostess Joan is reduced to rushing around a hotel trying to find out where Heidi is holed up probably getting gang-shagged.
This incredibly raunchy campfest mostly consists of hit-and-miss one-liners (Heidi is alleged to have invented “eightplay”, or simultaneous foreplay with two guys) and nostalgia-tickling cameos from the likes of Kris Kristofferson, New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Anthony Perkins, Brooke Shields, Selma Diamond, Robin Leach (who of course gets to spoof Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous), Joyce Brothers, Ruth Westheimer, Willie Nelson, Tony Randall, Erma Bombeck, Little Richard, Betty White, Suzanne Somers, Ali McGraw, Howie Mandel, Elvira, Garry Shandling, Vincent Price, Morgan Fairchild, Father Guido Sarducci – and more! The Solid Gold Dancers even put in an appearance, taking the stage to the tune of Olivia Newton John’s hit “Physical”.
80s buffs will be thrilled by the totally retro references to Mother Theresa, Mr. T, and Boy George (“Just what England needs,” Joan kvetches, “another queen who can’t dress!”). The highlight of this extravaganza, however, is not a celebrity, but a hilarious troupe of trained orangutans, one of which specializes in flipping the bird. The only real drawback to this trash treasure is its off-putting Talmudic attitude in promoting juvenile sexuality. “Harder! Harder!” Heidi is supposed to have exclaimed as a newborn when the doctor slapped her bottom, and she is also supposed to have enjoyed an outdoor orgy with several boys as a girl. The best line in Joan Rivers and Friends Salute Heidi Abromowitz definitely comes from negro janitor Vernon Washington: “Joan Rivers? Sheeeit. I thought you was Tony Orlando.”
4 out of 5 possible stars
How to Murder a Millionaire (1990) ***1/2
Joan Molinsky, the grotesque diva to out-bitch them all, gets to display her sensitive side in this tacky TV comedy feature about a privileged, rich housewife whose life revolves around shopping, hoarsely kvetching to best friend Morgan Fairchild, and watching interviews with transvestites on Monique in the Morning followed by Monique in the Afternoon. Unfortunately, Joan’s idle idylls are thrown into chaos when she begins to suspect that husband Alex Rocco may be trying to murder her – and, even worse, that he may be having an affair! (“What possible motive could he have?” her friend hilariously consoles her. “You look great.”) Desperate for refuge, Joan hides out in a ghetto rat’s nest (“This place just screams for a decorator”) with Fairchild’s thieving black maid (Telma Hopkins) and even goes to work with her as a housecleaner.
All of this, of course, is just an excuse for such fish-out-of-water scenes as Joan cleaning a toilet and trying to make herself comfortable on a disgusting black person’s couch – but not before covering it with sanitary tissues. How to Murder a Millionaire is something of a rarity in Molinsky’s list of movie credits in that it is a genuine starring vehicle for her as opposed to a cameo. For that reason alone, Molinsky admirers (i.e. homos) will probably want to check it out and treat themselves to such TV candy as Joan slumming in her expensive fur coat, washing a window with her rump, and self-pityingly crying while treating her eyes with cucumber slices. Nostalgiacs, furthermore, should enjoy the chintzy early 90s muzak and period cultural references to Leona Helmsley, Arsenio Hall, and the forbidden dance of lambada. What other movie, pray tell, has the sass to ask the question, “Does a bear shop in the woods?”
3.5 of 5 possible stars.