Without You I'm Nothing (1990) Poster

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"...how truly beautiful I am..."
aharmon7 November 2003
Sandra Bernhard's Without You I'm Nothing, the movie released in 1990, followed on the heels of her 1988 off-Broadway stage production ... what she and others refer to in the movie as her "smash-hit one-woman show."

There were several changes in monologues and one-liners, and the movie version visually re-vamps the story, taking Sandra from a fabulous existence as a successful stage performer in New York, during what she calls her "superstar summer," to an illusory, almost desperate existence back in her home in Los Angeles - her fictional manager in the film refers to it as getting Sandra back "to her roots, to ... upscale supper clubs like the Parisian Room."

There's a point to be made here. Sandra tries to appeal her liberal worldview and her sometimes harsh critique of American pop culture to an audience that doesn't completely see it. In L.A. she's playing to a predominantly black audience, trying to relate her ideas when all these people seem to want is "Shashonna," a Madonna-look-alike stripper. And even then, with Shashonna dancing to drum beats that resemble those from "Like a Virgin," there's not much to be said for the audience's enjoyment of the show. The scene in the club throughout the movie is dryer than a bone. A funny scene to catch is of a rotund man from the audience helping Shashonna out of her pants.

But, if she's going down, Sandra's doing so with style and force, conveying everything from foul confidence to punctured vulnerability ... right to the point at which she's naked (literally), pleading for acceptance and yet somehow still swimming in the pool of her own transparent stardom. Her depictions of interactions with the likes of Calvin Klein, Jerry Lewis, Bianca Jagger, Ralph Lauren and (what we're lead to believe is) Warren Beatty are fictional and hilarious.

Sandra begins her show in her most awkward moment, performing a quiet but mystifying rendition of Nina Simone's song "Four Women" while dressed in a mufti and other African garb, singing lines such as "my skin is black," "my hair is wooly," and "they call me Sweet Thing."

She resurrects and celebrates the ghosts of underworld art in a tremendously funny description of the frenzied estate auction for Andy Warhol: "Leave it to Andy to have the wisdom and sensitivity into the hours and hours of toil and labor that went into the Indian product ... that they've been so lucky to cash in on this whole Santa Fe thing happening."

She expounds on the excessiveness of Hollywood, consoling a distraught friend then admonishing him, saying "Mister, if this is about Ishtar, I'm getting up right now and walking out of your life forever because that's too self-indulgent even for me!"

Sandra illustrates the expectations of women in the age of feminism. Dressed as a Cosmo girl, Sandra retells her young-girl fantasy to become an executive secretary and marry her boss. She eventually concludes in relief, "I'll never be a statistic, not me. I'm under 35, and I'm going to be married!"

Sandra extols the opening of sexuality in society: "When he touches you in the night, does it feel all right, or does it feel real? I say it feels real... MIGHTY real."

Finally, she cries for change in progressive American society by channeling disco greats Patrick Cowley and Sylvester and proclaiming, "Eventually everyone will funk!"

All this comes in the form of glitzy, schmaltzy but wonderful cabaret performances of songs written and originated by Billy Paul, Burt Bacharach, Hank Williams and Laura Nyro, to name a few. At the same time, the idealized, fictional incarnation of Sandra -- her self-generated mirror image -- floats around town, a beautiful black model with flowing gowns and tight bustiers reading the Kabala, studying chemistry and listening to NWA rap music.

In Without You I'm Nothing, Sandra Bernhard explores emotions and existences that, up until then, she'd only toyed with as a regular guest on Late Night With David Letterman. Her almost child-like enthusiasm for shock, exhibited throughout the '80s, is thrown aside in the face of a subtler allure, and her confidence in the face of materialism and American celebrity proves refreshing. This approach to comedy would change Sandra's direction forever and mark the more mature, more personable entertainer to come.

If you like subtle humor to the point of engaging in inside jokes about glamour, celebrity, sex, loneliness, despair and shallow expressions of love and kinship, this movie will keep you in stitches. It may not be meant to be funny across the board. Perhaps it's a bit unsettling or even maudlin for some. But consider the emptiness of the world Sandra paints for you, and you'll understand just how funny and brilliant she really is.

But see Without You I'm Nothing with a friend "in the know" because it's definitely funnier that way. Before you know it, the two of you will be trading Sandra barbs and confusing the hell out of everyone else.
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Smart, talented, funny, and oddly sexy
bkamolnick2 May 2003
Sandra shows that she really has loads of talent in this quasi-concert film, a la Stop Making Sense.

She is too-hip-gotta-go in attitude, but this is part of her schtick. The revelation here is her voice - which is absolutely lovely. The band and musical arrangements are very cool, and slyly swinging.

The format of the film is very clever, and most of the pieces work wonderfully. When she announces that her true musical hero is Patti Smith any reservations I had crumbled, as they deserved to.

She certainly captures the irony of her title. The film is absolutely worth seeing . . .
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"A" for effort .... but her live performance was better
TequilaMockingbird6330 June 2005
I cant believe how few people posted comments!? (original post June 2005) Thats just shows that not many people care about this film...and thats sad. I had the privilege to see her perform her 1 woman show LIVE w-a-a-a-y back in1988 (or so? i cant remember) and it was HYSTERICAL!!!! She is a fantastic writer and stand up comic. The live audience laughter was infectious and I remember thinking she was a brilliant performer. But somehow seeing the same monologues performed on film spoken in a smoky Jazz nightclub to a less than enthusiastic crowd of actors (who probably had a very hard time keeping a straight face) was just not as funny. Sandra If you read this PLEASE PERFORM THIS SHOW LIVE AGAIN. IT'S TIME. or maybe you have. I'm going to look out for you more now.

(POST UPDATE: Film is being shown at OUTFEST Los Angles July 2009 YAY!!!).
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Sandra's a riot! The queen of tongue-lashing at her best!
the_first_sigh16 August 2001
Well, this might be one of the funniest movies of all time, and Sandy gives a tour-de-force performance! Alas, her career never quite took off, but - at last - she will always be remembered for her three first-rate pictures: "The King Of Comedy", "Dallas Doll", and "Without You I'm Nothing". She dons into different personas from New York socialite to Diana Ross to create a biting and hilarious critique of popular culture in America. Sexy and fierce, tender and sensual, philosophical and melancholic, she convinces the audience in every scene, and she actually IS "really pretty". Watch this one (if you're not from Iowa), you'll certainly enjoy it!!
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I Know Just What You Mean, Mockingbird
Seamus282913 May 2007
This is one of those unfortunate films that suffered an even more sad, unfortunate death at the box office. I saw this film at a local art cinema,in revival form,shortly after it tanked in mainstream cinemas. It certainly deserves to be approached a second time (or even a third). Sandra B. takes it to the limit by doing spoken word & taking on some well known songs in this piece (her version of Hank William's 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' could easily move you to tears). Maybe someday, audiences will be ready to take this film a bit more seriously (but not without some well placed laughs,too). The film moves at a brisk pace (thanks to some nice editing),so that some viewers will not find it stale & boring. Perhaps a revival is just down the pipeline.
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Uneven but very funny
barbarella707 January 2003
Sandra's kick*** one-woman, off-Broadway show is made into a poor man's art house film: the result is a wildly uneven ride that contains some hilarious bits and is still more than worth a look.

Her performance in Scorsese's The King of Comedy will always be her best and she's without peer when appearing in front of a live audience; yet the depressed blues singer who unleashes her anger about her narcissistic hairdresser boyfriend, the growing-up-with-my-parents and the 'I'm straight, man!' monologues, and the sexy, in-your-face ending are wonderful bits that equal those aforementioned examples of her talent and wit.

She's not everybody's cup of tea to be sure but those who appreciate her sharp edge and straightforward style will be grateful this film exists. Now if we can get it out on DVD!
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Ms. Sandra, Where Are You???
chetbakerrocks4 May 2006
If you ever have the chance to see Sandra Bernhard live in person, you better move on it sweetie. I saw her last year in Los Angeles at the opening of her Everything Bad and Beautiful tour and i still can't believe that i was in the first row, and lucky enough to experience such a phenomenal show. She is now in New York with the show and it coincides with the release of her groundbreaking stunner, "Without You I'm Nothing". We have lost Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Nina Simone, but Sandra is still with us. Patti Smith is missing in action, but not Sandra. Barbara Streisand continues to peep her head out once in awhile but Sandra more than makes up for where Babs leaves off. Okay, i want it known, Ms. Bernhard is a little of these influential entertainers and more. I really wanted to push this film because of its truth, honesty, humor, eclectic songs (ranging from Laura Nyro, Sylvester, Nina Simone, Prince), and a script that defines the decadence, joy, sadness, ups and downs of the 70's and 80's. It is my opinion that many (and i mean, MANY) comics have lifted, okay outright stolen, so much from this show if not from Sandra herself. I won't name names but come on, people, you and i know who they are. See, the thing is, Bernhard plays by her own rules. This movie shows, as does her live performances, that she is a performer who has stayed true to the old school of show business, as well as pushing forward. Her performances are reminiscent of smoky jazz clubs (during the time of Miles Davis,Coltrane,Monk), 70's TV shows, intimate cabaret acts and concerts that are reminiscent of everyone from Judy Garland to Joan Jett. Most comedians couldn't even touch where Sandra is coming from or going to. So, here i was, a year ago, watching Sandra at the Silent Movie Theater, in total awe and joy. I wanted to meet her after the show, give her something that meant something to me, that, hopefully would mean something to her. But i listen to my copy of Giving Til it Hurts, and just thank her in a prayer, of sorts for making me laugh, making me think, making me FEEL. You can't deny this lady's presence and you certainly cannot deny the talent that just rushes from the stage. She's still here, damn it, even after the release of Without You I'm Nothing, some 15 years ago. And she looks great, by the way. I know this firsthand, walking from the theater one audience member said to another, "She is SO FUNNY..and she still looks incredible!!! If you can't experience her live yet, please see this movie. As for me, I do hope that Sandra will see this. You've meant a heck of a lot to me, gotten me through some tough crazy times. If you can send me an email, please do. If not, knowing that you are still kicking it out and will continue to do so, is enough for me. Come on, people, give it up for the Lady!!!!
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onepotato229 April 2007
At the time I recall being quite startled and amused by this movie. I referred to it as the most important movie I'd seen in ten years, and found myself bumping into people who said similar things.

Bernhard has an unusually perceptive behavioral notebook. And she has shaped the bitter adolescent personality that we all had, into a corrosive, adult world-view. The two together provide a startling mix which may be too edgy for some viewers. (Hi Skip. I wish you weren't my brother so I could **** you!)

Bernhards search for herself after returning to LA from New York, results in the immersive trying-on of various personas (all of which fit poorly) for our amusement, but enough of them involve acting out to appeal to a "black imperative" values system that the real barometer of her resituation is whether black culture accepts her. (It's been a while. Nina Simone comes to mind. And she has an impressive, solidly-built black lover in the movie) A pretty black girl attends the shows, and seems to be authorizing Sandra's faux-blackness, but ultimately rejects her.

Just as Catholics deem themselves lucky to suffer for Christ, here Sandra depicts herself suffering at the hands of a black culture in which she craves a place; as if she cherishes her worthiness and her rejection. It's the only value system implicated in the films world, outside of Bernhards arty confusion.

For a nation whose chief issues are racism and money, it's refreshing to see one of the 2 topics dealt with in an atypical way.
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She's not everybody's cup of jive...
moonspinner5529 July 2005
Film version of Sandra Bernhard's one-woman off-Broadway show is gaspingly pretentious. Sandra spoofs lounge acts and superstars, but her sense of irony is only fitfully interesting, and fitfully funny. Her fans will say she's scathingly honest, and that may be true. But she's also shrill, with an unapologetic, in-your-face bravado that isn't well-suited to a film in this genre. She doesn't want to make nice--and she's certainly not out to make friends--and that's always going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. But even if you meet her halfway, her material here is seriously lacking. Filmmaker Nicolas Roeg served as executive producer and, though not directed by him, the film does have his chilly, detached signature style all over it. Bernhard co-wrote the show with director John Boskovich; their oddest touch was in having all of Sandra's in-house audiences looking completely bored--a feeling many real viewers will most likely share. *1/2 from ****
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still resonates
bucky-221 December 1998
Did Sandra (yes, she must have) know we would still be here for her some nine years later?

See it if you haven't, again if you have; see her live while you can.
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The drugs must have been strong in the late 80's
hepbhk28 June 2007
I saw this by chance showing on cable on wanted to like it as I thought Sandra was quite funny from what I remembered. The only facial movement I had throughout the movie was jaw dropping stunned at how awful a movie I just suffered through.

The person who said this is one of the funniest movies of all time please point out one line, just one scene, that is even worth a chuckle.

She is a much better singer than I remember her to be, but I didn't want to watch a lounge act.

I think this is a movie try hard to like since they think they should and don't view it objectively.
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Without You I'm Nothing
austrianmoviebuff9 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Sandra Bernhard is quite a character, and certainly one of the funniest women on earth. She began as a stand-up comedienne in the 1970s, but her big break came in 1983 when she starred opposite Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro in Scorsese's underrated masterpiece, "The King of Comedy". Her film career never quite took off, though. She did make a couple of odd but entertaining pictures, such as "Dallas Doll" (1994) or "Dinner Rush" (2000), but the most amazing parts were those she created for herself.

"Without You I'm Nothing" is undoubtedly her best effort. It's an adaptation of her smash-hit off-Broadway show which made her a superstar – and Madonna's best friend for about four years. In ten perfectly choreographed and staged scenes, Sandra turns from Nina Simone to Diana Ross, talks about her childhood, Andy Warhol and San Francisco and performs songs made famous by Burt Bacharach, Prince, or Sylvester. Director John Boskovich got Sandra to do a 90-minute tour-de-force performance that's both sexy and uniquely funny. If you are a Bernhard fan, you can't miss out this film; it's a tribute as well to her (weird) beauty as to her extremely unconventional talent as a comedienne. And it has influenced filmmakers in their work – "Hedwig and the Angry Inch", for instance, would look a lot different if "Without You I'm Nothing" didn't exist.
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