Interesting, isn't it, how life follows art and art follows life?
When Tim Blake Nelson was putting the movie "O" together--
loosely based on Shakespeare's "Othello" including a high-school
shootout--he could not have envisioned the tragedy at Columbine
High School in Colorado. When Alejandro Amenabar was going
through the steps of directing "The Others"--in which two children
must be kept indoors at all times, away from sunlight lest they die
of an incurable disease--he could not have known that several
months later the wife of Helmut Kohl would commit suicide
because she had a similar ailment.
Along comes Joe Roth with "America's Sweethearts," Columbia
Pictures' self-deprecatory look at press junkets, opening just
days after attorney Anthony Sonnet, representing Citizens for
Truth in Movie Advertising, filed a lawsuit against the major
studios for using the quotes of junketeers as though they were
wholly unbiased opinions. "America's Sweethearts" takes satiric
aim as well at supercilious actors, megalomaniac studio heads,
movie publicists, Eastern therapy, and most of all at Cupid's
demented aim, placing arrows now here, now there, mixing up
we fallible human beings so much that we can't be blamed for our
relationship with nervous breakdowns, heartbreak, and other
drawbacks most piercing to our species.
"America's Sweethearts" is Joe Roth's first time at the helm in a
decade, his last movie, the forgettable "Coupe de Ville," not
nearly a mark of his identity as his almost six-year leadership of
Walt Disney Studios beginning in mid-1994. If anyone knows the
movie industry it's Roth, so we can excuse some inaccuracies in
his take on press junkets as deliberate, designed so better to
entertain us, and chuckle at the ways of the American film
industry which has captivated most of the civilized world.
The movie's very title "America's Sweethearts," indicates that
this is not the story of any one person, is not told from an
individual's point of view, but one which is driven by sharp
ensemble work by a crack team of comic actors. The concept
that propels the story is the desire of Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal), a
major publicist for a big Hollywood studio, to carry out a
successful press junket in the Nevada desert (actually filmed at
the Hyatt Regency in the Vegas area). He faces two problems.
One is that the bizarre director, Hal Weidmann (Christopher
Walken), is holding his picture hostage, refusing to release it until
it shows at the junket itself, so that not even the studio head,
Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci), is privy to its contents. The other
is that the two stars of Weidmann's picture, Gwen Harrison
(Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack), have
split up and are about to divorced. The studio believes that their
reconciliation would be wonderful press to influence the
junketeers and the public alike, bringing in the big bucks at the
box office. Increasing the obstacles faced by Eddie is the fact
that Gwen's sister and gofer, Kiki Harrison (Julia Roberts), is
carrying the torch for Eddie while Gwen is enjoying the company
of the fiery Spaniard, Hector (Hank Azaria).
While no one person steals the show, there is ample
opportunity for all of these fine performers to strut their stuff,
which they get to do in what is at once a series of Saturday-
Night-Live style of sketches and a film that gels with a
sentimental, if predictable ending.
Alan Arkin virtually winks at the audience bearing an
inappropriate smile as the East Indian guide at a so called
Wellness Center, where heartbroken Eddie has gone for a two-
week cure that has kept him there for six months. Sporting a
great run and a penchant for inhabiting the role of an Indian guru,
Arkin agrees to a premature release of the not-yet-cured patient
to the studio publicist in return for the promise of a convertible.
Christopher Walken, looking every bit the image that the general
public has of creative film directors, shows in the film's whimsical
conclusion why he would not release his latest work before the
I've never been to one of these out-of-town junkets in part
because I review films but do not do interviews, but after seeing
the scene at the Hyatt Regency displayed satirically by Joe Roth,
I have to laugh at a defense that one blurbmeister gave of the
practice. Said he, "You can't spend what [the studios] give you.
"A hotel room? What is that? Is that real income? No. A meal?
You have to eat. You can't turn around and convert that meal
into money." Obviously, these are the luxuries on which people
would love their spend their hard-earned cash, and as for food, I
would hardly call the champagne being offered by waiters in
white coats, the lavish outdoor spread, and the unlimited evening
bar "a meal." What's more the press are getting all these
amenities completely free of Uncle Sam's long reach.
While some critics have charged that the barbs are not
sufficiently pointed and the comedy insufficiently off-the-wall, I'd
have to dissent. Hank Azaria in the role of an off-the-wall
Castilian, is the least effective person in the cast principally
because his behavior is the of the least believable kind, and
gentle satire frequently makes its points better than the harsher
variety because the audience is in the good spirits needed to
accept the message. "America's Sweethearts" is paced well,
photographed sharply by Phedon Papamichael, and a welcome
summer comedy well acted right down to its crotch-sniffing
Copyright © 2001 Harvey Karten