Director: Roger Kumble
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, Selma Blair, Thomas Jane, Jason Bateman
Plot: A no-commitment party girl (Diaz) has a chance encounter with the man of her dreams (Jane), but has to undertake an impulsive road trip to seal the deal.
While some movies come across as timeless, solid pieces of film-making that can be plonked next to any film from any year and still be taken on as a strong contender, there are a few movies out there, where context needs to be discussed. The Sweetest Thing is a great example of this. There is an awkward sense that, much like the Carry On Films, you are watching a comedy that is driven by jokes and gags that impressed in another era. The feminist debate here too is trying to make strong, independent characters, but the methods are quite dated already, doing the opposite of what they intended. Therefore, we are often struggling whether to class the Sweetest Thing as a bad movie, or simply a movie from another time.
It is clear that the main hypothesis of the film is creating three female leads, who do not need men in their lives. Cameron Diaz is essentially playing the male womaniser, only gender-swapped. Back then, it must have come across as a fairly smart move. Whatever men can do, women can do better. Therefore, Diaz’s character spends most of her free time, clubbing, flirting with men in bars and never calling them back. As Selma Blair comes out of a rough break-up, Diaz’s advice is to re-evaluate the dating game. It is social suicide to lay out all your emotions and expectations on the table for a guy you barely know, so dating is more about shielding yourself, playing it loose and promiscuous, until one guy feels worth sticking around. The rest of the film is pretty much the three women, attached to a paper-thin story that merely gives them the opportunity to explore the life of a single lady that is in no rush to settle down. And this is where the theory struggles to work in practice. I am all for open sexuality in women; a large part of equality between genders that whatever men are allowed to get away with, women should also be allowed to do. The characters seem happy with their life choices, so they should not be judged. However, in film, you have to question the motivations behind the sexually active women. It really does hurt that there is a male director at the helm here, because it does muddy a lot of the ‘girl-power’ tone of the movie. Suddenly, every scene that is simply Diaz, Applegate and Blair taking back their sexuality for themselves, feels a little more like Kumble making three attractive ladies talk about sex for an hour and a half. Every joke in the film really works based on how much you let that bother you. Is the musical number in the first half of the film, where the three girls sing about the size of men’s penises an amusing ‘anything goes’ anthem for women, or the male fantasy version of feminism? Certain gags like a medical emergency involving oral sex and the female characters being trapped on the road, wearing only their underwear, just feel embarrassing. This is not a comedy about exploring the strength of female sexuality, but a movie where a director gets to show Cameron Diaz parade around half naked for most of the movie.
Outside of the female nudity, the story is very by-the-numbers. Cameron Diaz refuses to take dating seriously, but then a handsome man walks into her life. Thomas Jane is a nice touch to the film, charming but sincere, not afraid to look silly, but not silly enough to make the character a walking stereotype. Cameron Diaz is very strong also. Diaz is one of the more successful actresses in America, able to deftly balance comedy and drama in her cinematography with ease. She has a natural comedy charm, but there is more to her. The Sweetest Thing feels slightly underneath her however, the script asking her to say something embarrassingly vulgar for comedy purposes. She emerges much better off than a whole of actresses will. Selma Blair gets the worse of the trio, her character often feeling more like an added bonus, than a functioning plot point, not getting enough screen time to prove that she is more than the material. Diaz also doesn’t quite get a strong enough scene to get some chemistry built up between her and Jane. They are both two attractive people that are likeable enough to want to spend time with, but there isn’t that sense of necessity. What sets them apart from any other rom-com couple? Perhaps if the central story, which boasts one good twist and little else, was a little more three-dimensional, some of the smuttier stuff would feel easier to take on board. It isn’t as though this is the most degrading comedy to women we have ever seen, or even liked. This just doesn’t have enough to hide from the more vulgar set-pieces, so when you finish the movie, they are all you are thinking about. Your love for The Sweetest Thing depends on whether you find that a good or bad thing.
Final Verdict: The Sweetest Thing cannot escape its desire to over-sexualise the female characters. Maybe for the right reasons, but the end result is too messy to take seriously.