Picks and Pans Review: Soapdish
Like pro wrestling, soap operas do such a good job of self-parody that they're tough to make fun of. Not impossible, though, as this consistently witty, lively comedy proves.
Something like a cross between All About Eve and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, its satire makes a feint at the jugular but mostly concentrates on the silly bone.
Field is an aging soap star, on The Sun Also Sets, whose off-camera histrionics match her character's nonstop tribulations. The show's main writer is Goldberg, effective in a straight-woman role, while Shue (The Marrying Man) is a neophyte who breaks into the show's cast. Kline is an old boyfriend of Field's whose career has plummeted so far that he is doing dinner-theater performances of Death of a Salesman.
Cathy Moriarty and Teri Hatcher are members of The Sun Also Sets cast who are coveting Field's star status. Garry Marshall (director of such films as Pretty Woman and The Flamingo Kid), in a rare acting role, is raucously funny as a programming executive who says in dismissing an idea, " 'Depressing' and 'expensive.' Those are two of my least favorite words. 'Peppy' and 'cheap.' Those are my favorite words."
So on-target are these actors, the direction of Michael (Some Girls) Hoffman and the writing of Robert (Steel Magnolias) Hailing and Andrew (The Freshman) Bergman that they offset the awful Robert Downey Jr., who is to movies what a black hole is to light. As a lust-ridden producer, he manages to be grating, excessive and boring.
Still, Field basks in clichés within clichés, gushing, "It's always such a genuine thrill" when she wins an award. And she's sport enough to spit out the indignant line, "Even for an actor, you're an egomaniac." Goldberg earns some dry laughs, rejecting an idea that Field's character be rendered comatose: "Actors don't like to play coma. They feel it limits their range."
Harling and Bergman wrap things up in a flurry of implausibilities involving The Sun Also Sets cast that is worthy of the loony subculture they're writing about. The soap opera universe is, after all, one where "wretched excess" is the highest compliment and where everything comes to he/she who waits—most likely before the next commercial too. (PG-13)