Lily Tomlin | Chicago Reader

Lily Tomlin

Documentary on the popular comedienne and actress, which follows Tomlin around as she prepares for her one-woman Broadway hit The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Tomlin's restraining lawsuits did some following around of their own, though veteran documentarists Nicholas Broomfield and Joan Churchill (Soldier Girls) haven't really captured anything to make it worth the hassle. Intentionally or not, Tomlin remains an elusive backstage quarry (some obvious padding out with business manager Cheryl Swannack points up the filmmakers' frustrated intentions), though her comedy persona (or personae, since they proliferate so abundantly) is, as always, complex and appealing, and there's enough good performance footage to keep the fans content. Still, Broomfield and Churchill don't offer much beyond essential surface; the contemporary intelligence and high-wire obsessiveness of Tomlin (and longtime collaborator Jane Wagner) are what we'd expect: what's missing are the personal quirks behind the consumable image—e.g., the sequestered part of her that would put a legal damper on an innocuous project like this one.

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