Sunday, September 30, 2012

Valley of the Dulls: "Isn't She Great" (2000)

Jacqueline Susann, the publishing phenom of the 1960's and 1970's, best known for her sex laden potboilers and outlandish public image, is reduced to a sentimental sitcom character in this rushed film.

Bette Midler is badly miscast as Susann, a struggling actress who falls in love with publicist Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane). The cutesy couple marry right away as Susann pursues her dream of fame at all costs. They have one child, a severely autistic son, and Jacqueline is diagnosed with breast cancer.

Irving hits on the idea that his wife should write a book (write what you know). "Valley of the Dolls" is rejected by everyone except publisher Henry Marcus (a terrible John Cleese), who assigns straight arrow milquetoast Michael (Niles Crane...oops, I mean David Hyde Pierce) to edit the massive manuscript.

The book becomes the best selling novel of all time, Irving and Jacqueline fight to save their marriage, and Jacqueline bargains with God over her few remaining years.

With a big name comedic cast (including Stockard Channing, Amanda Peet, and John Larroquette), a popular director, and an acerbically witty writer, "Isn't She Great" should have gone through the roof. Instead, the actors seem to pause a beat after their lines to wait for live audience laughter that never comes. Burt Bacharach provides a lovely orchestral musical score that is all wrong for a film that tries to persuade you that Susann was a ballsy force of nature looking for mass love.

Lane comes off best as Irving, only because he is the least obvious at phoning in his performance. Hyde Pierce had better start worrying about typecasting, and Peet and Channing are give nothing to do.

Entire scenes fall flat, although they probably read very funny on paper. Michael's first meeting with Susann, Michael's snobbish family, Susann's stab as a game show panelist; every scene seems off, as if the editor only used the worst takes shot. This is also a very short film, smelling of post production tampering and editing, from John Larroquette's ONE scene to Irving and Jacqueline becoming obnoxious louts ten seconds after they marry.

"Isn't She Great" should have been an absolutely fabulous, bitchy comedy. Instead, we get "Isn't She Kinda Okay?" The answer would still be "no." (*) out of five stars.