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The Sweetest Thing

Director: Roger Kumble
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, Selma Blair, Parker Posey, Thomas Jane, Jason Bateman

(Sony Pictures Entertainment; US theatrical: 12 Apr 2002; 2002)

Lowbrow

Promotional materials for The Sweetest Thing claim, “If you like There’s Something About Mary,” you’ll love Roger Kumble’s new Cameron Diaz vehicle. These sorts of comparisons always remind my of those old 1980s “Designer Imposter” perfume ads; “If you like Giorgio, you’ll love Primo.” Designer Imposters were (and I presume still are) second-rate, stink to high heaven knock-offs of fancy designer perfumes for the budget conscious shopper. Just so, Kumble’s movie is a second-rate recycling of any number of recent lowbrow comedy flicks.


The Sweetest Thing targets moviegoers who seek out the familiar and formulaic. This despite efforts to package it as “new.” At the preview I attended, a local radio personality called it “a chick flick that guys will like.” Wow. What exactly does this mean? I guess it is supposed to assert the film’s difference from standard gross-out “guy” films as well as weepy, feel-good “chick flicks.” Of course, this claim relies on the most sexist understandings of gender and audience: the premise here is that young single women obsess over personal relationships and the lack of “quality” men in the world, and at the same time obsess over sex, bodily functions, and dick jokes. (Sounds a bit like Sex in the City, no?)


In terms of vulgarity, the film has very few original scenes. In fact, several steamy moments seem directly lifted from Kumble’s popular (and fabulous) Cruel Intentions. At their local hangout, Jane (Selma Blair), one of the trio of best girlfriends in the film, makes out with some boy she has just picked up, and the camera lingers on their wet tongues intermingling, just like the MTV Movie Award-winning “Best Kiss” between Blair and Sarah Michelle Gellar in CI. Jane and her paramour stop short of replicating the famous thread of spittle.


But that doesn’t mean that The Sweetest Thing doesn’t include its share of gross-out gags. During their off-the-cuff road trip, pals Christina (Diaz) and Courtney (Christina Applegate) notice a foul odor coming from inside their car, which leads to some witty banter about the possibility of the smell being the product of someone’s unclean “poonanny.” Or, upon returning home from their trip, the roommates find their apartment filled by all sorts of EMTs, firefighters, policemen, and neighbors. It seems Jane has gotten stuck in a compromising position with her new big-dicked boyfriend. Not only is he HUGE, but pierced as well, and somehow she has gotten the piercing stuck behind her tonsils. These scenes, presumably, are the parts of the film that will appeal to the guys.


So what’s here for the girls? Well, two messages. First, girls can always and only rely on their gal pals to help them through the difficulties of life, and especially, romantic tribulations. And second, this is some sort of hybrid romantic comedy after all, “true love” will eventually come to you and everything will turn out for the best in the end; they lived happily ever after and all that. Like I said, the film assumes some basic sexist stereotypes, namely that boys are sex-crazed pigs and girls only want to find true love. At the same time, it tries to complicate these images, primarily by showing that girls can be (sexy) sexist pigs too.


Christina Applegate provides a useful example of the limits of stereotypes. She is one of the most overlooked comedic actresses of her generation. Her comic timing has always been sharp as a tack, her delivery right on and yet she is continually relegated to supporting roles, and usually bimbo/slut characters. (One exception being her excellent performance as a nerd in Gregg Araki’s Nowhere.) Courtney is a ball-busting, high-powered divorce attorney. Nevertheless, after establishing this much in the opening scenes, The Sweetest Thing, written by first timer Nancy Pimental, quickly confines Courtney to the same old bimbo clichés.


Applegate has never quite been able to move beyond the Kelly Bundy shtick she perfected on Fox’s Married: With Children. But perhaps that is the point. While “we” all recognize that actors like Applegate should have available to them roles with depth and complexity, we are really most comfortable with sexy young women playing bimbos. Similarly, “we” all recognize the limitations of both “guy films” and “chick flicks,” even when the attempt is made to bring those limitations into focus, as in The Sweetest Thing (and this is a rather generous reading of the film). Nevertheless, “we” are most comfortable with conventional sexist stereotypes of both women and men.

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