Although she made a splash in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy in 1983, subsequent years saw Sandra Bernhard earning far more attention for her shenanigans with Madonna and David Letterman than for her film roles, which were of wildly varying quality. The stage has always been the real place to catch this comedian and singer. In 1988, Bernhard took the off-Broadway world by storm with a one-woman show called Without You I'm Nothing. For better or for worse, this film adaptation differs significantly from the live version. Bernhard and co-writer/director John Boskovich, a conceptual artist, retrofit the material with different songs, updated monologues, and a highly stylized visual approach. The result is an idiosyncratic exercise that bypasses the traditional concert film aesthetic but fails to connect viscerally. Comparing the film with the audio version of the original show, one can't help but notice how much Bernhard feeds off of a live audience. The camera is just no substitute. Bernhard's act isn't about punchlines so much as her attitude and her painfully funny observations about cultural identity. Here, she sometimes comes off more snarky than audacious. Several gags fashioned especially for the film -- including interviews with Bernhard's "manager" (Lu Leonard) and the gyrations of burlesque dancer Shoshanna (Denise Vlasis) -- serve mostly to slow the film's momentum. The most interesting aspect of the screenplay is the way it engages with African-American culture while simultaneously deconstructing the very idea of cultural appropriation. It's hard not to admire a film in which a bisexual Jewish woman from Michigan dons Polynesian garb to sing three-quarters of Nina Simone's "Four Women." But by the time Bernhard stages her audacious finale -- stripping down to pasties and a g-string to the strains of Prince's "Little Red Corvette" -- many viewers may have lost patience with the abstract nature of her film.
In this stylized adaptation of her 1988 off-Broadway show, singer/actress/comedian Sandra Bernhard explores celebrity, stereotypes, and her own childhood in a series of monologues and musical numbers. Although much of the material comes straight from the original stage show, Bernhard and co-writer John Boskovich updated many of her pop-cultural musings and added several new production numbers. They also turned a one-woman show into something of a mockumentary, staging interviews with Bernhard's fictional manager (Lu Leonard) and adding several additional characters. Most of the action is staged in a theater full of well-heeled African American patrons who slowly leave in disgust at Bernhard's performance, which includes her deadpan fantasies about an imagined gentile childhood, a dalliance with Warren Beatty, and a trip to Studio 54. Originally given a limited release by New Line Cinema in 1990, Without You I'm Nothing was quickly pulled from theaters when the company that produced it went bankrupt. Eventually, however, it made its was to home video and DVD.
All Movie Guide - Brian J. Dillard