Hot Docs Review: 'Tig'

(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Kristina Goolsby, Ashley York
Programme: Show Me the Funny (International Premiere)
Tig Notaro in Tig, Courtesy of Beachside Films
'Good evening, I have cancer,' sounds like the perfect line to kill the mood in a comedy club, yet Tig Notaro totally killed it when she opened a stand-up comedy routine with this unconventional lead-in in October 2012. Tig, which marks a notable opener for the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival as an LGBTQ-friendly film with a female subject and two female directors, looks at this woman who found life in the face of death. Tig's announcement and the comedy routine that followed it are natural moves for a comic--using life to inspire material--but the candour and vulnerability of her performance ignited a response from audiences so powerful that Tig became a viral sensation. Tig proves that laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Tig's performance is a bold step. We're often quick to assign a badge of bravery to anyone experiencing something as severe as cancer, but bravery goes beyond a diagnosis. It takes true courage to expose oneself as sick an confronts one’s one mortality in the public sphere, since society treats any imperfection with the body as taboo, and Tig's story reveals how life is so much better when someone tells it like it is.

It's impossible not to love Tig as directors Kristina Goolsby, Ashley York follow her throughout her recovery and her unexpected rise to fame. The film intercuts her story with excerpts of her landmark routine, which gave the audience a sense of how much she suffered, since breast cancer came after a string of hard knocks including C Difficile, a break-up, the death of her mother, and flat breasts with murderous intentions. (They bore the brunt of one 'dem titties' joke too many, hence breast cancer as God's ultimate punch line.) But Tig, the Make a Wish Foundation with a microphone, gets the last laugh.

Goolsby and York make a thoroughly likable doc, as Tig is alternatively hilarious and heartbreaking. Tig's quest to become a mother, for example, gives a greater tug at the heart than any cist could muster, while a sweet, beautiful love story gives the subject a well-deserved rainbow after a series of unrelenting storms. The film rests almost entirely on Tig's strength, dry humour, and comedic timing (and her loving rapport with her now-wife Stephanie), and while there isn't much to elevate the film formally, it's rich as a character study and often powerful for the pauses of Tig's 'Live' performance that add rib-tickling gravity to the film. Tig's cathartic grasp of her illness is just the prescription audiences need. It's a fun, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable film. 

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

 Tig screens:
Sun, May 3 at TIFF Lightbox at 7:00 PM

Please visit www.hotdocs.ca for more info on this year’s festival.