America's Sweethearts (2001)Rated PG-13 for language and some crude sexual humor.
Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack and Hank Azaria.
Photo ©Columbia Tristar. All rights reserved.
Note: This page includes review and revision entry.
A Satire with Missing Teeth
America's Sweethearts is one of those movies that started out as a great idea: skewer the movie marketing-machine within the context of an entertaining romantic comedy, which, as a genre, it also tries to zing. It's got the weight of a lot of star power to swing around, and so its promise is high. Does it deliver? Let's just say that it was a decent shot that probably could have been better still. It's a dubious debut for Revolution Studios: attack the studios for their relentless attempts to sell a movie, no matter how bad it is, by serving up one that is itself lukewarm overall.
In Sweethearts' movie world, Eddie Thomas (John Cusack) and Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are a famous much-loved movie couple. Their romantic exploits onscreen have charmed audiences nationwide, and they enjoy a marriage off-screen too. Well, actually, they did enjoy it. These days, Gwen has taken a liking towards a Spanish lover (Hank Azaria) and has split up with Eddie. In despair, Eddie has become a recluse. Their last film together, "Time After Time," is nearing completion, only awaiting the final editing by its eccentric auteur director (a funny Christopher Walken). However, he won't give it up to the studio, which plans to market it at a press junket. With no actual film to promote yet, the studio honcho (Stanley Tucci) gets master publicist Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal) to arrange a junket that will somehow play up the upcoming movie while distracting the press from the fact that the product isn't actually ready yet. Lee's idea: to bring Eddie and Gwen together again for an appearance at the junket. If they look amicable there after their much publicized bad blood, the gossip-hungry press will eat it up.
Meanwhile, there is true love at stake. Pathetic Eddie is still hung up on Gwen, who is more worried about her sagging movie career more than anything else; audiences don't want to see her flying solo in new films and prefer the Eddie-Gwen combo on-screen. Gwen's personal assistant, her sister Kiki (Julia Roberts), wonders why Gwen couldn't be less cold to Eddie. After all, Kiki sees mostly good qualities in Eddie. Thus the love triangle is set among the actress diva, the leading man who can't get over his leading lady, and the sister who longs for and deserves the leading man.
The movie starts off strong with a promo for Eddie and Gwen's past romantic movies. It pokes fun at the sappy stuff and the fact that they sell so well to audiences. We also get a great parody of the obsessive and reclusive director, with Christopher Walken as a director deemed brilliant by the critics, but is also seen as a nutcase and impossible to work with by the studios. There are also funny looks at the crass marketing machine known as the junket, as well as at the schmoozy press people who attend them.
It doesn't stay strong enough, though, and it starts to feel as if the movie hits cruise control, especially in dealing with its own romantic sappy stuff. I get the feeling that the movie tries to play off the love and heartbreak issues as something that's really quite honest, and in that sense an edge is missing from what should otherwise be a golden opportunity to take more jabs at the romantic movie concept. Although they are surrounded by caricature-like minor characters, the main characters themselves are relatively middle-of-the-road. John Cusack plays his familiar lovable loser again, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is supposed to be bitchy, but she actually doesn't come off as bitchy enough. Julia Roberts plays a character that, really, anyone could have played: a sympathetic third leg of the triangle without a strong personality. They all do a good job and work well together, but the slight disappointment comes from the sense that the picture started off with the promise of being something different, maybe even something scathing, but then settles for something rather routine.
The movie is entertaining enough as it goes along. Hank Azaria and Billy Crystal are serviceably funny in their roles. The main cast members get about equal screen time, and everything is well-balanced. Perhaps the finale can lift this movie up to, hopefully, a bold finish. Alas, there is no such luck there. The ending is actually very clumsily-written. It has a great set-up, but what transpires leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, what actually happens seems to be a bit of a stretch, and then the characters all sort of take turns one-by-one resolving their own personal issues, and nothing of real consequence actually seems to occur. The movie didn't seem to know how it really wanted to end: daringly or conventionally.
In fact, that may be the best way to describe the feel of the movie as a whole. It was trying to be daring and conventional at the same time. One has the feeling that with some fine-tuning in the writing and some snappier dialogue, this could have been a marvelous satire. It instead ends up not being that ambitious, settling in to the romantic routine. America's Sweethearts isn't bad, and it's actually quite funny in spots. It just isn't special either, which is too bad because, given what it had to work with, it could have been.
©Jeffrey Chen, Jul. 22, 2001
In my 2001 Hindsight article, I wrote regarding America's Sweethearts:
Two movies that seemed dumber the more I looked back to them: America's Sweethearts and Planet of the Apes. Sweethearts' jokes were embarassing, and Apes' story was lazy. I didn't hate either of the films, but neither did I think they were as good as other movies I had given a 6/10 to. I've dropped them to a 5/10.
Revised Rating: 5/10
©Jeffrey Chen, Jan. 13, 2002