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SIFF ADVANCE: Tig - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A

Tig is about a whole lot of things, but it is arguably the best film ever made about the process of stand-up comedians, just by virtue of its context. The jumping-off point is the stunning set of life setbacks faced by the comedian of unparalleled talent, Tig Notaro: In 2012, she was hospitalized with the deadly bacteria C. diff; then her mother died; then the relationship she was in fell apart; and after all that, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Most of this became the subject of a now-legendary Largo set lasting about half an hour, which she did within days of her cancer diagnosis. Called Live (as in, rhymes with give), the set remains available for download for $5 and is still among the best five dollars you could ever possibly spend.

But in this film, all of that is just the beginning. Co-directors Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York move from there to make Tig, ultimately, the story of Notaro's quest to become a mother, as well as the gestation and development of her relationship with In a World... co-star Stephanie Allynne. Both of these narrative threads are met with their own significant setbacks.

Even for a documentary, Tig is an unusually intimate portrait, which is what makes the film special. Notaro is the perfect subject for such an approach, because you can tell her attitude isn't an act or disingenuous. She purports herself to be a rather private person, and yet we are granted access here to some profound moments in her life, such as when she receives the phone call to find out if her surrogate has become pregnant with her donated, fertilized egg. It's to the credit of the film's deeply skilled editing that this seems contradictory: the film spans the course of more than a year. Notaro could not possibly have had cameras following her around the entire time. But she did when it counted, and she understood the integrity of sticking to what she initially agreed to when deciding to be filmed.

Tig Notaro has a refreshing lack of narcissism in a position of this sort, because she isn't trying to show off how blasé she is. She just is. Her primary aims here are in redeveloping her comedy after the surprise fame that came with the Live set at Largo (something she says she never expected, which is not hard to believe), and nurturing her relationship with Stephanie, and having a baby. She just happens to have some cameras around for some of these endeavors.

And those cameras pick up some pretty extraordinary things. Tig actually put out a request on her podcast, Professor Blastoff, for any possible surrogate mothers. She can't carry the baby herself because the risk of her cancer returning is too great. Even getting hormone treatments for the harvesting of eggs is a risk, but that risk she takes. And Tig finds a perfectly normal couple from Seattle -- this got a nice round of applause at the SIFF screening -- willing to help.

This is just one of many ways in which Tig takes some surprising turns, offering a fascinating portrait of what current technology can make possible for family planning. We see a doctor and the surrogate mother as the one embryo that turned out to be viable is placed in her womb, and we see Tig's emotional response as she's there to see it happening.

Tig Notaro is a woman with an extraordinary life, largely borne of a rapid-fire string of tragedies that would each break many other people on their own. No one is more surprised than she is, but she seems to use her own unique brand of humor to keep herself grounded. She notes that she is proud of that Largo set -- available only on audio; there was no video recording allowed -- but she never had any expectation of it changing her life. This film features many audio clips from it, and even three years later, the set still crackles with historic vitality, even in its many awkward moments.

Sometimes you just have to ride the wave. Tig Notaro's audience has grown exponentially, and her talents justify it. She has an HBO standup special coming in August. She has a book coming out next year. She's even the subject of another documentary, following her travels as she performs in the homes of loyal fans -- that one has more mixed reviews so far, and it has not yet been released. In the case of Tig, she found herself some filmmaker friends with talent and skill to spare, because you won't find another documentary that works better. Its only disappointment is that it won't be seen in theatres -- but, you can see it soon: it comes to Netflix July 17.

Tig Notaro is the ideal documentary subject in TIG.</a>

Overall: A
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