Better get this out of the way first. I love movies about movies. Singin’ in the Rain, my all-time favorite film, puts a smile on my face every time I watch it. What those stars of silent motion pictures went through as a result of "talkies" taking over! It’s great fun seeing a bit of cinema history presented in such an amusing way. And I always enjoy it when the spoiled prima donna portrayed by Jean Hagen loses out to a more deserving Debbie Reynolds.
Reminiscent of Singin’ in the Rain, America’s Sweethearts features Catherine Zeta-Jones as a superstar who takes advantage of her sister/assistant both in their personal and professional lives. Julia Roberts, portraying the put-upon sibling, matches Zeta-Jones’ flashy performance by displaying a quiet charm that won me over completely, even though I couldn’t help wondering why she wasn’t cast in the megastar role.
Making fun of all things Hollywood, this timely comedy co-written by Analyze This screenwriters Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan focuses on a studio publicist (Crystal) and his efforts to re-unite Zeta-Jones (Traffic) and John Cusack (Being John Malkovich), her estranged husband. These two have been big box office draws in a series of blockbusters, so it’s important they get back together before their latest film is released. Crystal’s job depends on it. He enlists the help of Roberts (The Mexican) in persuading Zeta-Jones to attend the press junket. Next, he bribes Cusack’s wellness guru (Alan Arkin in a terrific cameo) to make sure the neurotic actor also participates.
I’ve never attended a press junket, so I don’t know if any of the hilarious situations depicted here are true to life. But, as a veteran interviewer of stars during personal appearance tours, I can vouch for the number of stupid questions actors must answer (some asked by yours truly). I’m embarrassed to admit that a critic in one scene sounded just like me when inquiring about whether or not the two stars were getting back together. My interview with Lauren Holly after her much-publicized divorce from Jim Carrey seems all too similar now. (Sorry, Lauren!) No wonder actors sometimes lose control and can’t resist giving ridiculous answers, like Cusack’s character when he claims that he, his wife, and her new boyfriend (Hank Azaria from Mystery, Alaska) all make love together.
Studio heads and temperamental directors also take a ribbing in America’s Sweethearts. Stanley Tucci (Big Night) makes the movie mogul he portrays look more ambitious and unethical than any mob boss. He even considers the idea of a star’s suicide being good for his movie – "if it happens at the premiere." Christopher Walken (Sleepy Hollow) cracked me up as an eccentric filmmaker who edits all his movies in the unibomber’s shack (which he purchased and moved to his estate.) His brief tap-dancing scene with Zeta-Jones is a special treat. I keep forgetting Walken started out in musical comedy on Broadway. What a shame he doesn’t perform more song and dance numbers on screen!
All this talent would be wasted in America’s Sweethearts without serious chemistry between Roberts and Cusack. Before seeing the movie, I was convinced they were miscast as the romantic leads. Fortunately, Cusack delivers a very funny and poignant performance as a man devastated by his wife’s infidelity, yet drawn to her more sensitive sister. He appears like two different persons with each of the women. Warmth comes through in his scenes with Roberts, an edgy nervousness with Zeta-Jones. As for Roberts, the way she looked at Cusack convinced me she cared deeply for him. Her glances, filled with tenderness and humor, say more than any words.
No, this isn’t the greatest comedy about movies ever made. As mentioned before, Singin’ in the Rain ranks number one in my book. Bowfinger, State and Main, Silent Movie, and Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood all evoke more laughs with less cynicism. Still, America’s Sweethearts is a welcome addition to a genre so popular with movie addicts like me.
(Released by Columbia and Revolution Studios; rated "PG-13" for language and some crude and sexual humor.)