Saturday, March 19, 2016
ISN'T SHE GREAT (2000)
Directed By: Andrew Bergman
Written By: Paul Rudnick
Based on an article By: Michael Korda
Cinematography By: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Editor: Barry Malkin
Music By: Burt Bacharach
Cast: Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, Amanda Peet, John Cleese, John Larroquette, Jeffrey Ross, Christopher MacDonald, Frank Vincent>
An unsuccessful over-the-top actress becomes a successful over-the-top authoress in this biography of Jacqueline Susann, the famed writer of "Valley of the Dolls" and other trashy novels. Facing a failing career, Susann meets a successful promoter who becomes her husband. After several failures to place her in commercials and a TV quiz show, he hits upon the idea for her to become a writer. In the pre-1960s, her books were looked upon as trash and non-printable. But then the sexual revolution hit and an audience was born for her books. The story shows the hidden behind the scenes story of Susann's life, including her autistic son and her continuing bout with cancer that she hid up to her death.
I will admit this is more or less a guilty pleasure. I saw it opening weekend at the theater I worked at, but still I couldn't wait at the time to watch this film. As it isn't a serious bio film of Jacqueline Susann, but what it is is a formula you would think couldn't miss a campy comedy about her unorthodox life. Starring Bette Midler and Nathan Lane. It is written by Paul Rudnick who also wrote ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES and is an accomplished playwright of somewhat campy and witty dramatic plays on Broadway. That seems to achieve a certain panache. Though stays at a low boil. That might have been better as a broadway show rather then a full fledged movie.
The film plays fast and loose with some of the facts and white washed a lot of the material and adds characters. They seem there more for comic relief or to pack emotional weight. As they seem made up to fit the wacky structure of the film.
The film is packed with familiar names. Though many stay more In the background to be used to any real effect. The only ones who get chances to step out of the background are David Hyde Pierce and Stockard Channing who is hilarious throughout and deserves a special honor for her comedic performance and sassy one liners.
The film feels like a campy nostalgic look at the 50's as they made way 60's and 70's almost like a less artistic Pedro Almodovar film, without the talent and seriousness behind it. The film also came along when kitsch was popular.
The film is wacky but not as trashy as one of Jaqueline Susan's books. The film ends up feeling like a fun fantasy version of the truth. Like an explicit TV movie version with top name talent.
This is the type of high concept movies of the 80's that seems to be a waste in ways of money due to their new simpleness, but since it seems like so little money was spent there was no risk and the film seems rushed so that it flies by instead of laying down an anchor and really exploring some scenes and emotions. It also seems like a film rushed into theaters as studios hoped they would be successful at least for the weekend. Facing little to no competition.
The films humor seems like a throwback as many scenes seem to build and build to a comedic Avalanche. Placing the dependence on verbal and physical but of an old school variety. Like a scripted vaudeville show.
Bette Midler makes a star turn that reminds us why we love her. She feels heartfelt, loud, funny, risqué, bawdy and larger then life. Though she Is over the top in personality, the film gives her a humanity so of course Midler is perfect for the role.
Nathan Lane is fun as her manager and husband, who always has faith in her through all her attempts at fame that usually backfire. Though he constantly feels that he is losing her as he is beneath her as a person.
The film crafts a genuinely sweet though not fully explored facet of love and romance during marriage. That forms an inspiration.
This is pure soap opera cinema. That tries to have the same spirit as the books and the films based on Jaqueline Susan's books over the top but meant to embrace the mundane.
For the films soundtrack there is a reunion of songwriter Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick which makes the music of the film always sound hopeful and like the characters are always on the verge of success and a breakthrough. --What hurt the film is that at the time there just wasn't really a demand or need for the film or any real audience interest. It is always a pleasure and joy to see Bette Midler in the screen but this wasn't the star vehicle that the studio was hoping for.
You are engaged but don't take the film too seriously. As it is more silly while also trying to be more comedic about the material and show in some cases in trying to be trashy and more relatable. As what happens when trying too hard to serve an audience what they want. They sometimes strike back by having little interest or severely critical as that is. It exactly what they want or how they pictured it. That makes you wonder why you tried in the first place. The direction of the film doesn't help as it seems uninspired and unenthusiastic more like a for hire job then showing any passion for the subject.