Ken Tucker
May 13, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Were Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story (NBC) not so ghoulishly creepy, it would be an instant camp classic. Joan and her daughter, Melissa, portray themselves in an autobiographical TV movie about the aftermath of the 1987 suicide of Rivers’ husband, Edgar Rosenberg. From the opening sequence, in which shots of Joan in a hospital for a liposuction operation are contrasted with scenes of Rosenberg overdosing on pills and liquor, you realize that Tears and Laughter will be absolutely shameless. The movie doesn’t avoid any awkward moment, from mother and daughter going through Rosenberg’s personal effects (”His Filofax!”) to Joan’s monologue directed at her husband as he lies in his coffin.

You watch, knowing that Rivers couldn’t possibly have gone through these experiences speaking the perfectly constructed, emotionally modulated cliches supplied here by writer Susan Rice (Opposites Attract). So you try to imagine how Rivers really behaved in this time of crisis, and then catch yourself feeling like a voyeur speculating on things that really should be none of our business. Happy viewing.

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