All-star cast in a successful satireBy Pey-Hwa Hwang
Directed by Joe Roth
Written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan
Starring Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Billy Crystal, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Seth Green, and Hank Azaria
What happens when you put Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Julia Roberts, and Seth Green in the same movie? In the case of America’s Sweethearts, you get a witty satire about the movie industry, complete with various digs at some current trends in movie making. The barbs begin when publicity point man Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal) is enlisted by studio owner Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci) to set up a press junket to promote the movie Time Over Time. The movie was directed by Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken), an incredibly eccentric three-time Oscar winner who works in Ted Kaczynski’s cabin.
The junket will only be successful if Phillips can convince the press that the film’s stars, Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack), have smoothed their rocky marriage and are getting back together. Phillips calls in Gwen’s sister Kiki (Julia Roberts) to pull it off. Catherine Zeta-Jones shows off her prowess in comedy and makes a highly believable spoiled starlet. Able to manipulate everyone around her with a combination of over the top pouting and prima donna power, Zeta-Jones makes a complete departure from her serious role in Traffic and mischievous banter in The Mask of Zorro.
Julia Roberts shows that she is capable of acting in a fat suit and makes her doormat-to-darling role as believable as possible. The one thing lacking in her performance is that it seems to be a role (the underdog that’s struggling to be appreciated who eventually comes out on top) she’s played before.
However, she provides a good foil for Zeta-Jones. Cusack is in his element as the tortured soul whose puppy-dog eyes leave no question as to why the public empathizes with Eddie and spurns Gwen. Somehow, Cusack brings originality to spurned Eddie with a combination of private bitterness, and confusion, and public self-confidence and self-deprecating (albeit not always intentional) humor, which keeps the character from drifting into the realm of the cliche. Crystal is at his smooth-talking best, with the possible exception of two unnecessary scenes involving a rottweiler. Seth Green, playing Crystal’s inexperienced would-be successor, is also fun to watch as he infuses his character with both an amazing naivete about the the business as well as a childish delight in learning the tricks of the trade from Crystal.
Alan Arkin as a quirky wellness guide is refreshing, and the movie could have benefited by giving him more screen time as the man who can speak gibberish and still make money. Kingman is also surprisingly underused; his sleazy yet needy character is despicably greedy and yet hilariously dependent on Crystal. Hank Azaria, however, as Gwen’s Latin lover, is unfortunately forced to take on an absurd accent and overly stereotypical ignorant belligerence that makes one question Gwen’s sanity in choosing him over Eddie. Cast performances aside, the innumerable jabs at the industry make the film worth watching. There are digs at sappy movie titles, at the way the press is catered to, and comedic references to the roof scene in Almost Famous, the last scene in What Women Want, reality television, and even the trend of using a dog for comic relief in movies.
America’s Sweethearts is a movie that succeeds in poking fun at itself without seeming overly self-conscious. This movie, however, is not without some shortcomings. Some of the scenes are rather contrived and seem to be in the movie merely to provide slapstick laughter. Overall, America’s Sweethearts may not be gut- wrenching drama, but it provides an evening’s worth of intelligent amusement and reminds the audience to always watch out for cacti.