Director Chiemi Karasawa deserves all the credit in the world for the intimate and hilarious portrait that is "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," a sparkling cocktail of music and memoir. On the other hand, she didn't exactly have to drag her subject out of her shell: Long-legged, whiskey-voiced, an extrovert extraordinaire, the Tony- and Emmy-winning Stritch is a natural raconteur and musical star who thrives in the spotlight -- any spotlight. If there's a differential between the onstage version and the one Karasawa follows around from adventure to adventure, it's a very fine one indeed.
Stephen Sondheim and Noël Coward wrote for her, JFK wanted to date her, Ben Gazzara wanted to marry her, James Gandolfini befriended her and the tirelessly pleasant pianist and aide-de-camp Rob Bowman accompanies her through her music and her various difficulties, as Stritch prepares to take her salty self back onstage. Her plagues include diabetes and a memory that seems to be going, although one of Karasawa's better constructions involves Stritch bailing out of a dress rehearsal when she can't remember the lyrics to "I Feel Pretty" -- then, in front of an audience, not only remembering all the words, but making shtick out of pretending to forget them.
"Shoot Me" is as a much a movie about mortality as anything else -- the subject is 87 by the time the movie ends, and she knows she has a lot less time in front of her than behind her. The frank humor and grace with which she accepts all this is moving, and more than a performance.
PLOT The venerable Broadway star, not going gentle into anything. Unrated (language).
CAST Elaine Stritch, Rob Bowman, Cherry Jones, Alec Baldwin, James Gandolfini
BOTTOM LINE Delightful, candid, bittersweet and musical.