The exposure to Julia Roberts these days is so intense that when you look at a white surface you see her outline. One of my coworkers, however, complained not of too much Julia but of the way Roberts and co-star Billy Crystal kept looking at each other funny in all the print and TV promotions for their new film, American Sweethearts.
American Sweethearts is a look-at-each-other-funny kind of film. It?s a romantic comedy that yearns to be one of those romps of yore. The rallying cry on the set was surely ?Think broad!? And if the elements of American Sweethearts don?t completely come together, it?s good enough and even funny enough.
The driving idea is that Hollywood people are different from you and me. They are selfish and odd and sometimes a little evil though not a kill-you evil. Stuck in the middle of all the craziness is everywoman Kiki (Roberts), assistant/sister to Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a so-so actress with a sexpot pout and an inner focus that threatens to one day turn her cross-eyed. Gwen has been on the receiving end of a lot of scorn lately, having dumped her husband and co-star Eddie (John Cusack) for the sweaty Spaniard Hector (Hank Azaria). The last movie Gwen and Eddie made together is just being released and has got to be a hit ? for the almost has-beens Gwen and Eddie and for the nearly bankrupt studio. Complicating matters is Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken), the director who demands that the final print of his film be seen first not by the studio but by the press. Enter Lee Phillips (Crystal), the film?s publicist, who swears he?ll get Gwen and Eddie together for the press junket to end all press junkets.
All forces gather in a hotel in Las Vegas. Gwen and Eddie, who?s been pried from an ashram-like ?wellness? center, grin and bear it during their countless interviews. In the wings is Lee, orchestrating ? and stalling for the film?s arrival ? like mad. If Eddie?s caught on security cameras doing something nasty outside of Gwen?s cabana, good for Lee and the movie. If Eddie seems to be on the cusp of suicide, better still, just make sure it gets to the press. All the while, Gwen moans and frets about how this reflects on her; good thing Kiki is there not to just lend support but to fetch her mouthwash as well.
American Sweethearts, co-written by Crystal, is near-bursting with little jabs at Hollywood. Gwen is part-Liz Taylor, part-Russell-Crowe-era Meg Ryan who can dish it out but can?t and will not take it. Eddie, in turn, is a tortured mess looking for meaning in life through a fistful of herbs and nonsensical chants. In fallback position are Lee and his boss Dave Kingman (a particularly gestural Stanley Tucci), both gifted backstabbers with varying degrees of sincerity, plus the director Hal, a reclusive multimillionaire genius a la Kubrick, and Eddie?s ?wellness guide? (Alan Arkin), who releases his troubled charge in exchange for a bitchin? set of wheels.
Then there?s Kiki. She won?t take butter on her toast, and she leaves out the toast, too. A former fatty (Roberts is seen briefly in a fat suit), she is the pushed-around girl next door with a great laugh and cuddly charm. The fetching she?s done for sister Gwen was fine 60 pounds ago, but now she needs some play and that neurotically earnest Eddie is looking mighty fine, even while mooning over her sister.
In the end, Roberts, playing it straight, comes off rather thin amid all this activity. And the raison d?etre, the romance between Kiki and Eddie in this romantic comedy, appears to have been shoehorned in. But if there?s a message in American Sweethearts, it?s that nothing about Hollywood makes sense. Don?t think, just watch.