One of two documentaries this week about old-school comedians, the subject of Neil Berkeley’s Gilbert is divisive even by comedy standards. The average person on the street doesn’t much care for Gilbert Gottfried and his squinty, shouty, onstage persona, but he’s revered by other comedians, and not without reason. Gilbert creates something of a triptych with two past documentaries: 2005’s The Aristocrats, which used Gottfried’s famously vulgar retelling of a dirty joke at a post-9/11 roast of pussy-grabber Hugh Hefner as its leaping-off point, and last year’s Life, Animated, about how Gottfried’s vocal performance in Aladdin helped a boy with autism communicate with the world.
Mostly following the comedian in his off-hours, Gilbert is much more along the lines of Life, Animated, as Berkeley — whose previous film, Harmontown, was much better than this critic initially gave it credit for — dives deep Gottfried’s personal life, discovering that he’s in fact a loving husband and father, which surprises him as much as anyone else. A film with a deep core of sadness, Gilbert also explores how an artist can be driven by a lack of parental acknowledgment, be it not approving of their child’s line of work or just refusing to read their child’s book. Thankfully, Gilbert suggests that Gottfried’s children will not be similarly deprived.
Opens Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission.