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Talk about a brief, shining light that lingers on.

Gilda Radner was never a movie star – she made some movies, but they were neither all that successful nor memorable. She was never the star of a primetime television show or a comic who toured the country performing for adoring audiences.

Truth be told, she was on fire for about five years, 1975-1980.

But man, what she accomplished in those five years.

As the new documentary “Love, Gilda” makes clear, Radner's stretch as one of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players on “Saturday Night Live” influenced countless comics who've followed in the decades since, likely including comics who don't even know who she was.

Her fearless use of physicality, her ability to draw on her own neuroses and the characters that she'd met in life, and her sheer enthusiasm for unladylike silliness opened doors that can't be closed. Looking at you Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy and Amy Poehler, along with many, many others.

Actually, Poehler more than agrees. She, McCarthy and other comics take part in “Love Gilda,” reading from and talking about assorted diary entries and notes Radner made over the years.

The film is stuffed with early home movies, talking head remembrances and clips that show Radner's humor has more than survived the passage of time. The woman is an outright riot.

There was, as there nearly always is, pain behind the laughter. Radner was a pudgy kid growing up in Detroit, and she battled eating disorders throughout her life. She ran through a parade of boyfriends – including multiple SNL cast members – before falling madly in love with Gene Wilder.

Then came cancer, which she gamely and publicly fought. Then death, at age 42.

But even death couldn't extinguish Gilda Radner. As “Love, Gilda” ably shows, the laughter lives.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

“Love, Gilda”

GRADE: B+

Not rated

Running time: 88 minutes

 

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