You know the plot: a heartless love ’em and leave ’em player toys with the affections of the opposite sex until WHAM! along comes the one who may turn out to be THE ONE. Undaunted, the player and player’s best friend hop in the car to pick up THE ONE at a wedding…only to discover THE ONE is marrying someone else! The wedding derails at the last minute and then…our main characters reconnect, finally falling in love.
What you don’t expect: the player is Cameron Diaz. THE ONE is Thomas Jane.
The Sweetest Thing turns tired romantic comedy tropes on their head by changing up the genders and letting women run the show. Diaz’s Christina has left a sea of shattered men in her wake, all of whom suffer from anger management issues, impotence, insanity, or some combination thereof. Her best friend Courtney, of a similar mold, supports her friends “manizing” and does a bit of her own, all for–GASP!–HER OWN ENJOYMENT! Third friend (and frequent third wheel) Jane (Selma Blair), recently dumped by her man, sets off on a calorie-free sexcapade with a cute (but insanely stupid) man whose “features” have her reaching for the Advil the next day.
If these characters had penises, I’d hazard to say they’d be the staple of any ridonkulous male sex comedy. But because they are women doin’ it for themselves, the film tanked. Diaz’s love interest, Peter (it’s slang for penis!), is a fussy, wallowy dude who becomes incensed when Christina rips him a new one for blowing off hot friend Jane at the club. He knocks her down a peg. Christina shrugs it off…but is she attracted to him? Yes. Probably because he’s the only guy in the club who isn’t dripping off her at any given moment. The story of our lives: we want who doesn’t want us.
While The Sweetest Thing is bold in premise, it doesn’t quite nail the dismount. If non-narrativity is your thing, this film is for you. Diaz and the girls interrupt the film with a costume change-filled “movie montage” while shopping for wedding outfits (and lamenting the sagging of her breasts with marked candor in the process), a spontaneous music/dance number called “You’re Too Big to Fit in Here” that summarizes the three’s perspective on consoling men about the size of their Johnsons, and a sex fantasy that features Christina receiving constant oral sex while eating giant ice cream sundaes with the calories removed. Add to this a road trip, a wedding brawl, a piercing-related fellatio emergency, an encounter with nervous bride Parker Posey, the most embarrassing visit to the dry cleaners EVER, and a glory hole, and you’ve got The Sweetest Thing.
While for most moviegoers, the disconnectedness (or what negative reviewers smarmily call its “bits,” also slang for penis, btw) for me is its strength. Diaz, Applegate, and Blair are fearless in the film, often taking gags to the point of danger, disgust, or both–but never losing their wicked lack of apology for doing so (unlike most other female-driven comedies like Bridesmaids, which got gross, but allowed you to hate/pity the characters while watching so you didn’t have to imagine spending a life with them).
While the film does ultimately return our women to “ladylike” status by the end (all our happily coupled and on a sex-free diet until “the time is right”), it pulls no punches along the way. One of the greatest moments is when Applegate lambasts Diaz for “naming the puppy” (Peter) after he chastizes her. Another woman in the restroom can’t stop staring at Applegate’s boobs. “They’re fake,” she says flatly, then offers, “Go ahead, touch them.” The woman, then three other women, all begin evaluating the realness of Applegate’s implants. As the bathroom door swings open, two men fall over themselves when they see this, their fantasy in real life. “That’s why chicks always go to the bathroom together!” one says as they camp out for a better view. Of course, the reality is a lot less sexy.
Or the bit where Applegate and Diaz, clad only in their “laundry day panties” after a urinal soaks them both with water and Diaz gets poked in the eye at the aforementioned glory hole, drive to the wedding. Diaz drops something on the floor of the car and, as she reaches over to grab it from under Applegate’s feet (who is driving), a hyper-masculine biker passes by and looks in, almost falling off his bike. Applegate plays up the appearance, flicking her tongue through her spread fingers, egging him on, while Diaz pats around on the floor none the wiser. All is fun and games until the biker, so caught up in their tryst, doesn’t see his lane end…and dumps the bike on the ground. In the background, you see him stand up and shake his fist at them angrily as they drive off. Again–masculine misinterpretation of female sexuality is the punchline. Oddly, (straight) men seemed not to find this funny!
2002’s The Sweetest Thing didn’t get a lot of notice when it was released. In fact, I don’t even really remember it coming out in theaters. A quick sweep of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes brings up these ringing endorsements:
“Female characters should be allowed to engage in raunchy humor on the big screen; they already do on the small one with Sex and the City. But unlike that HBO series, The Sweetest Thing has no guts.” Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune
“If a date suggests the two of you should go and see this film dump them.” Harry Guerin, RTE Interactive
“A movie in which laughter and self-exploitation merge into jolly soft-porn ’empowerment.'” Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
“If you laugh at this badly made recycled trash dump…it may be because you are amused at seeing women doing the same revolting stuff men do, and being forced to suffer the very same consequences.” Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press
You’ll note all these reviewers are, sadly, men. And possibly humorless pricks.
Even as it wickedly deconstructs heterosexual gender norms and sex roles, The Sweetest Thing never loses its sense of whimsy and fantasy, as evidence by my parting gift: “You’re Too Big to Fit in Here.” If not obvious, this clip is rated R.