America's Sweethearts

Directed by Joe Roth
Starring: Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Seth Green.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, some crude and sexual humor.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
July 27, 2001

During the time that I spent procrastinating this review, I finally had my long-awaited chance to see The Producers on Broadway. I would much rather talk about that extremely entertaining show (based on one of my favorite films) than discuss the mediocrity of America's Sweethearts. You see, the bane of every critic's existence is not having to sit through really bad movies; at least then you get to write a cathartic, scathing review. No, it's reviewing films like this one, where there's so little to say that's fully positive or negative. The vast majority of films fall in this category, which is what makes this profession so difficult. Now, I will attempt to say something insightful about a film that is not.

The real significance of this film is within the world of show business, which also happens to be its setting. Specifically, the industry of creating mainstream Hollywood romantic comedies. The irony of the film's self-satire is overbearing, yet somehow invisible to director Joe Roth, the former head of Walt Disney Pictures who has now founded Revolution Studios and invited all of his big Hollywood friends over to play. He got Billy Crystal to write a screenplay with Peter Tolan and play veteran press agent Lee Phillips. He also got John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones to play the title roles, Eddie Thomas and Gwen Harrison, a screen couple whose off-screen marriage is now ending. They still have one more film coming, but its reclusive director (Christopher Walken) refuses to screen it until the press junket in Nevada.

To keep his job, Lee must make it appear to the press that Eddie and Gwen are reconciling. If the press has that to think about, then they'll forget that nobody has seen the film. Thrown into the mix is America's Actual Sweetheart, Julia Roberts, as Gwen's sister/assistant, Kiki. She's there to make sure that the film turns into a romantic comedy by hooking up with Eddie. This sudden relationship is helped by the fact that Kiki has recently lost 60 pounds, and is now acceptably attractive to be a romantic comedy lead.

From this short description, which is a mere subset of the collection of plot points shown in the trailer, one can easily determine the story of this film from beginning to end. However, I actually had to sit through it to make sure this was the case. With a plot this predictable, the film depends on sitcom-style one-liners for the humor, and ancient jealousy scenarios to provide dramatic tension. America's Sweethearts is so visibly contrived, it renders itself useless. How is this film any better than those it parodies? How stupid does Roth think we are?

Perhaps the best question to ask is about the extent of Roth's vanity. He created a studio from the ground up, and has directed his first film for the studio, which is populated with big stars just to show what a powerful mogul he is. Not only that, but also to show that Revolution is a legitimate studio.

Anyway, it seems that people would rather see dinosaurs eating people than the Scream of romantic comedies. I just hope that Cusack goes back to actually creative comedies like Being John Malkovich and High Fidelity. Roberts can handle films like this easily enough by herself.

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America's Sweethearts (2001)

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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan