The Sweetest Thing

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Roger Kumble
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, Thomas Jane, Selma Blair, Jason Bateman, Parker Posey
Rated: R

Almost as interesting as The Sweetest Thing’s good-humored efforts at giving women their very own “bad taste” comedy is the general tone of the reviews that blast the film. What’s especially interesting is the inescapable sense that more than a few of the film’s (predominately male) detractors are threatened by the concept of a movie where the female characters tend to view the male characters as love-’em-and-leave-’em sex objects. It’s even more interesting to see that one of these same critics found 40 Days and 40 Nights — which easily outdistances The Sweetest Thing in terms of “bad taste” — a brilliant film that unleashed a “universal truth” in a sequence where Josh Hartnett fantasized about floating over a mountain range made up of CGI breasts. It looks suspiciously to me that many of the reviews of The Sweetest Thing say far more about the reviewers than they do about the film itself. Written by South Park alumnus Nancy Pimental, the movie has a distinctly feminine tone of voice, an anarchic freshness, and — to judge by some of the responses to it — the ability to hit too close to home for some people’s comfort. All right, so it’s not a brilliant piece of filmmaking, but it is a funny (sometimes hilarious) comedy with a deft sense of humor about itself, a playful spirit and a game cast. The plot is pretty standard romantic comedy — with one significant difference: It’s told from the woman’s point of view. After all, how many comedies proceed on the basis of some studly lothario who, after years of conquests, finally meets “Miss Right,” doesn’t recognize the fact until it’s (nominally) too late, and has to pursue the object of his affections? Well, make the lothario into Christina Walters (Cameron Diaz), change the gender of the conquests and you have the basis on which The Sweetest Thing works. But that’s a pretty significant difference on the old Double-Standard Meter, since there is no equivalent female term of adulation for lothario (though there are a host of derogatory terms). So on at least one level, The Sweetest Thing is a fairly subversive work in its own right. However, the point of the film itself is primarily to be an outrageous, over-the-top comedy, and that’s where The Sweetest Thing best succeeds. Its simple storyline is beautifully fleshed out with an array of sometimes bizarre, sometimes raunchy, almost invariably funny gags. The approach has been likened — generally unfavorably — to that of the Farrelly Brothers. And there is a similarity to the humor in The Sweetest Thing and that found in There’s Something About Mary, but The Sweetest Thing goes very much beyond the Farrellys in its execution. The film isn’t afraid to remind the viewer that it is a film (“Do you think we have time for a movie montage?” asks Diaz at one point, only for the film to stop dead with just such a montage while she and Christina Applegate try on a variety of deliberately ghastly dresses) in the playful manner of the Richard Lester movies of the 1960s. It’s not so much an intrusion as it is the good-natured exuberance of people high on the possibilities of the sheer fun of filmmaking. Moreover, the gags — even at their most outrageous — are invariably grounded in the characters. When a weeks’ (perhaps months’) old, rotting, maggot-infested Asian dinner wrapped in tin-foil shaped like a bird is found to be the source of an unfortunate aroma in Applegate’s car and is summarily jettisoned from the moving vehicle only to take flight and crash back into the passengers, it’s not just a gag, but part of Applegate’s character. It’s easy to believe her character would have such a thing in her car. Similarly, Applegate’s supposedly surgically augmented breasts are intrinsic to her character, as is her matter-of-fact “Go ahead and look at them, that’s why I got them” attitude. As a result, the characters have a reality to them — even when the movie is at pains to remind you that it is a movie — a trait often lacking in modern outrageous comedies. For this and many other reasons, The Sweetest Thing is definitely a way above average comedy with a pair of great comedic performances from Diaz and Applegate.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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