It’s the most baffling movie riddle of the spring, even tougher to unravel than the mystery of Jodie Foster’s magic expanding breasts in Panic Room: Why would Sony give Cameron Diaz $15 million to star in The Sweetest Thing, and then force her to fail at it?
This gorgeous, athletic, blessedly gangly woman with above-average acting chops and spectacular legs has somehow acquired a reputation for being funny. She has been in several comedies, though she wasn’t the comic portion of any of them. She was on the cover of Premiere magazine with the blurb “A Seriously Funny Lady.” (I bet “Lady” bothered her terribly; is there any surer indication you’re no longer the Next Big Thing?)
But see, Cameron isn’t funny. She doesn’t tell jokes, and she doesn’t make faces. Her charisma and her presence make us smile, not laugh. Yet the studio signed her up to take pratfalls and break hearts in this ostensibly revisionist romantic comedy, then infected it with so many useless, derivative, sappy elements that even Cameron has no chance to save it. But hey, at least she can cry herself to sleep on a bed of money.
In The Sweetest Thing, she plays 28-year-old party girl Christina, who chews up and spits out men like a bulimic with a cheeseburger. Christina is living a Maxim-cover-girl life of clubs, clothes and hot guys in San Francisco with best friends Courtney (Christina Applegate, funny as hell) and Jane (Selma Blair, also good)—until Christina meets Peter (Thomas Jane). Peter is so pretty and so nice and so entertaining that he inspires a dream in which he’s giving Christina spectacular oral pleasure while she eats huge bowls of calorie-free ice cream.
Since they have to do something, Christina and Courtney head into the Northern California sticks for a wedding mentioned by Peter’s brother (Jason Bateman, improbably good). A series of increasingly elaborate gags allows the three leads to humiliate themselves verbally, physically and orally (in Blair’s most memorable scene, involving a hummer, a piercing and a problem).
Screenwriter Nancy Pimental—the former South Park writer and Win Ben Stein’s Money co-host who sold her first script for seven figures—pursues distaff political incorrectness with religious zeal. She’s done an admirable job of finding a few scatological sight gags that haven’t been strip-mined by the Farrelly boys and everybody else, but she misses as often as she hits.
What’s more, The Sweetest Thing is maddeningly unwilling to spend any time with its characters beyond their set pieces and Cameron’s moon-faced moping over Peter—a studio exec likely ordered the excision of every scene not involving a gelatinous liquid or Lycra, leaving us with shards of a movie. And it’s not as if Pimental and director Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions) didn’t have time. The Sweetest Thing lasts 84 minutes, and that’s counting the closing credits and a bloopers montage. It’s hard to remember the last time a movie would have been better if it were a half-hour longer. When we finally learn a bit more about the characters, they turn out to be the worst type of single-gal clichés, secretly desperate to find Mr. Right and leave behind their free-spirited ways. It’s enough to make you toss your Cosmopolitan.
In the end, the film makes exactly the same mistake as American Pie, yet another collection of hilarious moments strung together with all the artistry of a first-grade crafts project: It attempts to wring sappy sentiment from what should be an unapologetically nasty good time. Even the actors sensed what a lame direction they were taking—one of the outtakes shows Cameron laughingly overacting the hell out of her character’s pivotal take-a-chance-on-love moment.
The Sweetest Thing could have been a parody of romantic comedies. It could have been a weightless, calorie-free romp. It could have been 110 minutes about the joy of being Cameron Diaz. Instead, The Sweetest Thing is just sad, short and sour.