Cathy Moriarty, Sally Field, and Kevin Kline star in SOAPDISH, directed by Michael Hoffman for Paramount Pictures.

Soapdish (1991, Michael Hoffman)

Zany. Soapdish is zany. At its most amusing, it’s a rapid-fire, carefully scored (Alan Silvestri’s score is essential, given how it establishes the movie’s mood) set of fast scenes with decent laughs. Garry Marshall is hilarious, Carrie Fisher is even funnier. Cathy Moriarty is terrific. So where’s the big problem? Well, Soapdish‘s most amusing parts are not its best parts. There’s an inconsistency, as the best parts are those with Sally Field and Kevin Kline. There’s not quite enough “good” parts for Soapdish to be anything but a zany comedy about soap operas. It is not, for instance, really a good soap opera about soap operas. It’s very aware of itself and its limitations.

I’m not sure a movie with Soapdish‘s melodrama would work as a straight story, so the zany approach isn’t a bad one, it just allows for some mediocre and broad performances. Robert Downey Jr., for instance, has a funny character. Even if it were someone else, the character would still be funny. When it comes to the zaniness, Soapdish is real cheap. Fisher and Marshall, it’d be hard to replace. Downey, anyone could do it. Whoopi Goldberg’s character tends to span both sides and she does a good job and immediately establishes herself as vital. But Elisabeth Shue? I’d forgotten she was in the movie. She can’t hold her own in the scenes with Kline and Field, since Kline’s so good in general and Field’s very self-aware as a trapped TV star. Shue just doesn’t bring anything to the film. Her character on the soap is mute and, basically, so’s Shue.

The movie’s not unsuccessful, it just isn’t deserving of what Kline and Field bring to it. It’s ninety-five minutes of missed opportunities. The movie’s constantly changing tone and pacing and there’s never a chance to believe the characters. Teri Hatcher–who’s actually kind of good–switches from a villainous role to a good one for no reason other than… she needs something to do. The script needs an agent and she’s it.

There’s also a lack of comedic payoff with one major subplot at the end and the movie sort of fades out on earlier smiles. Had the movie really gone for the concept, it’d have been a better result. But at a certain point, it’s just clear–for example–there’s nothing to Downey’s character. He’s not smart, he’s not ambitious, he’s one-dimensional and he’s kind of boring. The movie coats itself in absurdity, trying to disguise it’s never going to suspend the viewer’s disbelief… but then it stops (rather than ends) and it’s very clear it didn’t quite work.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Hoffman; screenplay by Robert Harling and Andrew Bergman, based on a story by Harling; director of photography, Ueli Steiger; edited by Garth Craven; music by Alan Silvestri; produced by Aaron Spelling and Alan Greisman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Sally Field (Maggie), Kevin Kline (Jeffrey Anderson), Robert Downey Jr. (David Seton Barnes), Cathy Moriarty (Montana Moorehead), Elisabeth Shue (Lori Craven), Whoopi Goldberg (Rose Schwartz), Teri Hatcher (Ariel Maloney), Garry Marshall (Edmund Edwards), Kathy Najimy (Tawny Miller), Paul Johansson (Blair Brennan), Arne Nannestad (Director Burton White), Sheila Kelley (Fran) and Carrie Fisher (Betsy Faye Sharon).


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