Isn't She Great

Directed by Andrew Bergman
Starring: Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, Amanda Peet, John Cleese.
MPAA Rating: R for language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
January 29, 2000

Last year, on Labor Day weekend, I was on a business trip and not able to update this website. Only one film was supposed to be released the preceding Friday: Isn't She Great. Fortunately, the release was cancelled, and I didn't have to fall behind in my reviews. When a film's release date is postponed from a weekend in which it would have no new competition, that's usually a bad sign. When that film can't be released for another four months, then there must be a problem. If that belated release happens in January -- without a late December award engagement -- just forget about the film being any good. But enough rules of thumb. Let's see how the theory becomes a reality.

In the 1950's, Jacqueline Susann (Bette Midler) was a struggling actress. At her lowest point, she met Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane), a press agent who promised to make her a star. He got her spots on game shows and other events, but nothing worked. He suggests that she use her knowledge of the dark, seamy side of show business to write a trashy novel.

Of course, she wrote the ultimate trashy novel: Valley of the Dolls. It was so graphic in its depiction of sex and drug use, that no major publisher would buy it. By now, it was the 1960's, and only the publishing house run by Henry Marcus (John Cleese) was "hip" enough to see the book's commercial potential. Straight-laced Marcus employee Michael Hastings (David Hyde Pierce) is hired to edit the book with Jacqueline, who lives in a chaotic world of excesses with friends like Florence Maybelle (Stockard Channing), another struggling yet pretentious actress.

That book went on to be a huge bestseller and eventually a major motion picture. It paved the way for trashy hacks like Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. But I would prefer reading that stupid book than watching this inane film. Instead of showing her trashy past, Isn't She Great tries to turn the last twenty years of Susann's life into a musical comedy, but without the characters breaking into song. This stagey style really comes into conflict when the film feebly attempts to deal seriously with Susann's autistic son and her life-ending cancer.

It's really amazing just how unfunny this film actually is. Even with this style of comedy, this cast should have been capable of pulling it off. Midler and Lane specialize in over-the-top theatrics, but they fail miserably without a decent script. There are some cameos (including John Larroquette as Susann's former lover) that only manage to embarrass. There is a scene of an interview with Truman Capote, and the part is credited to "Sam Street", but it looks like a now regretful Kenneth Branagh to me.

At least January is almost over. The studios generally premier their worst films at this time, because they know they won't have any award chances. This film will be quickly forgotten, and will hopefully not ruin the careers of any of the actors. As for the filmmakers, maybe they should look into other fields of work.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Isn't She Great (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Isn't She Great (2000) -- VHS
Isn't She Great (2000) -- DVD
Isn't She Great: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan