Plot: Bette Midler stars in this revolting ‘comic’ biopic of hack authoress Jacqueline Susann, the writer of such Harold Robbins-like tomes as “Valley of the Dolls”. The film tracks her triumphs and travails, climaxing with Susann’s early death from cancer.
I had thought never to see a worse piece of gay camp than Can’t Stop the Music! More pertinently, I had hoped never to see a worse piece of gay camp than Can’t Stop the Music! That was before I saw Isn’t She Great. Now I have a whole new hope.
Given the people (Paul Rudnick, Nathan Lane, Bette Midler, etc.) involved in the project, its subject and its cartoonishly overripe style, it’s obvious that this film was made with the idea that it would be a smash hit with gays. After that, any significant hetero audience would just be the icing on the cake. The notion, though, that homosexuals would flock to the film was about the most insulting slur possible, easily eclipsing anything coming from Dr. Laura. In any case, they were proven quite wrong in any such assumptions. The film, which had a production budget of $36,000,000, grossed back under four million at the box office. Nor can you see them even bothering to export the film overseas. Chances are that when the end-of-year box office reports for 2000 come out, Isn’t She Great will rank near or at the bottom.[Note: The following paragraphs should be read in ‘bullet point’ fashion.]
OK, Dinosaurus! adding that exclamation point to its title is well within the rules. However, how is it even possible to leave the question mark off of ‘Isn’t She Great’? In what way can that sentence be construed as being a declarative statement?
Why do all the mock salacious book covers used for the credit sequence look so cartoony? It really doesn’t fit the style of book cover design of that period. Also, the cover art as shown is much too explicit to adorn a book in the ’60s or early ’70s.
To be fair, having Burt Bacharach compose a theme song, sung by Dionne Warwick, that’s reminiscent of the period’s tunes is probably the smartest idea they had here. Too bad they blow their (modestly) best idea in the first few minutes of the film.
The film opens like the worst Neil Simon play in the universe. Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane) provides narration revealing how he fell in love from afar with Susann (Midler). A ‘comic’ montage natters on about how talented and successful Susann is as an actress, while we see scenes like her appearing in a murder play and getting killed in the first minute. See? The contrast between the narration and the ‘facts’ provides humor. That’s the theory, anyway.
About a minute into the film proper (if it can be called that) and I’m breaking out in hives. Ugh. Bad comedy, there’s nothing like it. Now Midler and her best friend, actress Flo (Stockard Channing) are hammily doing a radio drama. The joke? The guy performing it with them has lost his place in the script. Oh, my sides.
Next vignette: Susann is doing a fondue presentation at a supermarket. She dips something into the cheese and then accidentally flicks her wrist. The foodstuff flies off, accompanied by a ‘zzzing!’ sound effect so cartoonish, so completely out of place, that my mouth literally fell open. Then she swears, using the ‘s’ word for those keeping track. This is meant, obviously, to portray her as ‘brassy,’ which is the sociological antecedent to that whole nauseating “You go, girl!” kind of attitude. Her foul language is employed throughout the film in a manner meant to suggest her authenticity. This as compared to the repressed stiffs who don’t use profanity in front of children, as she ‘comically’ does here. I don’t mean to beat this to death, but I want you to understand that the film intends her constant swearing to be endearing. Instead it just makes you want to wash her mouth out with soap.
Enter Mansfield, as he introduces himself to Our Heroine. Lane plays the role with his basset-hound face in a perpetual squinched-up fashion, meant to suggest Mansfield as a hapless schlub who gains happiness from his proximity to the awesome Life Force that is Jacqueline Susann. Meanwhile, as a press agent he will help her gain what she most wants: Fame. (There’s a noble goal. No wonder they made a movie about her.)
Cut to a flashback of Susann being cast aside by a vaudeville comic played by John Larroquette. (Are we missing Night Court yet, Johnnie?) He’s wearing a suit with humongous black checks and a huge polka dotted bowtie, because, you see, it’s funny. Oh, and when he leaves she chases after him because he left his rubber chicken behind. Because, you see, it’s funny.
Concluding the above anecdote, Susann states with horror, “He left me! For his wife!” Them’s the jokes, folks.
Out for a stroll in Central Park, Susann in a comic depressive fit walks out into the park’s pond. Then she engages in a *cough* humorous exchange with Mansfield, who just stands there because he’s so ineffectual and everything. Finally he stalks out after her. “I want you as a woman,” he avers. “And a client.” Then, as they stand waist deep in the water, he hands her his business card. Because, you know, it’s funny.
The first gig Mansfield gets her is as a panelist on the fictional game show What’s My Job? See, ’cause there was a real show called What’s My Line? It’s satire. Or something. This whole scene is appalling. (The magic of this movie is that you never become acclimated to just how awful it is.) A pained looking Christopher McDonald, last seen here in Fair Game, ‘comically’ plays the host in an exaggeratedly unctuous Guy Smiley-esque fashion.
Meanwhile, Paul Benedict makes a cameo as the wittily monikered Professor Brainiac, a pompous academic type on the panel, ‘comically’ wearing professorial robes. Older viewers may remember Benedict as the befuddled hotel clerk in This is Spinal Tap. Viewers older than that may recall his supporting role as the wacky English neighbor on The Jeffersons. Meanwhile, viewers even more ancient may actually recall him as the demented artist from filmed vignettes on Sesame Street, who would paint various numerals on whatever objects he came across, such as a bald man’s head.
Continuing the humor is the third panelist, an airheaded blond starlet hawking her role in ‘It Came From Beneath the World.’ As you’d expect, her name is Bambi, because that’s the kind of a name an airheaded blond starlet would have.
The scene is rife with supposedly humorous details. McDonald keeps calling Susann “Susan,” for instance. That kind of thing. Oh, and Bambi keeps asking the contestant really dumb questions, as you’d expect someone named Bambi to do. So does the Professor, though. Apropos of nothing, he asks the woman “Do you do repair work?” (Bambi follows this by asking, “Are you an astronaut?” See. Humor.) I guess it’s supposed to be funny because it doesn’t make any sense. In which case this whole movie is a comedy classic.
One problem with the scene, which is like identifying a spoonful of water as being one reason the ocean is wet, is that Susann is supposed to be chaffing at appearing with Bambi because she herself is so smart, while Bambi coasts by on her looks. Unfortunately, the film never gives up cause to believe that Susann is in any way intelligent. Fame hungry, yes. Self-centered, oh, yeah. Obnoxious and rude, definitely. But smart? Not a bit of it.
Susann gets booted off the show because she keeps loudly insulting the improbably moronic Bambi. (If a real life ’50s sci-fi actress like Mara Corday saw this movie, she’d kick screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s ass.) Again, though, instead of thinking about what a creep she is, we’re supposed to admire Susann’s authenticity. Sorry. She’s just an unlikable creep.
OK, somebody please explain this next bit to me. Bambi smarmily says, “I always look on the bright side.” Then Susann, looking down at the woman’s large breasts, sarcastically replies, “How could you find the bright side?” Huh?
Susann hyperventilates when she learns that she’s not been invited back on the show. She doesn’t understand why this has happened. See, she’s not just a jerk. She’s an idiot, too. Meanwhile, she worries about when her long sought fame will find her. “I’m almost thirty,” she wails in *cough* comic understatement. This allows a guy walking by to sarcastically, and quite understandably, reply, “Yeah, right!” “F**k you,” our heroine charmingly retorts. (How come she can make fun of Bambi but this guy can’t make fun of her? Oh. Right. It’s her movie.)
You will never forget the romantic scene where Mansfield proposes. But you’ll keep trying.
This sets up the introduction of the film’s most nauseating element. There’s a tree in Central Park that Susann visits periodically and (sorta) prays to. I suppose this means she’s a druid. Anyway, when she’s well, she demands fame and fortune; when she’s sick she cusses out God. It’s all pretty revolting, yet I think it’s supposed to indicate Susann’s deep spirituality. Anyway, coaxing Mansfield to talk to ‘God,’ she gets him to reveal that he’s gotten her a TV commercial gig. “God wants to know what kind of a TV commercial,” she simpers. This assertion seems sort of strange. First of all, it seems like the kind of thing God would already know. Second, why would He care? Well, ‘mysterious ways’ and all that. In any case, when Mansfield explains that it’s a national network commercial, she agrees to marry him. “Isn’t she great?” he asks for the first of several times. Hey, he said the title!
It’s during this ‘commercial,’ which we watch along with Susann and Mansfield on their black and white TV, that we are introduced to Josephine, their rather frou-frou poodle. Now, I like dogs rather a lot, and am often distracted when a cool dog is on the screen. However, if there was ever a dog I could have stood to see a lot less of, it’s this one.
Meanwhile, we get some *cough* social satire. After the commercial is over he hear an announcer stating, “In Washington today, President Eisenhower announced the chances of nuclear war are only thirty percent.” Take that, Ike!
Uh oh, Susann is preggers. Only in a film this poor and schmaltzy would such an announcement curl your stomach with dread. Sure enough, just like in some bad movie (say, this one), their baby turns out to be developmentally challenged. They are soon â€“ say, roughly twenty seconds after the whole pregnant thing came up — talking to a doctor about putting the kid in a special care facility. The doctor is given bizarrely insensitive things to say, so that Our Jackie can angrily respond and show that She Cares. First the doctor refers to the child as “the child.” “Guy,” Susann corrects. “His name is Guy. He has a name.” Then the doctor uses the word “retarded.” “He’s not retarded!” she shouts. “That’s not the right word!” Actually, it probably is, given the time period. (My friend Andrew Muchoney, also watching the film, suggested that the term ‘mongoloid’ might also be employed during this era.) In any case, Guy appears to be autistic, so apparently they, as I suspected, had the Doctor use the term retarded so as to give Susann an opportunity for some moral grandstanding. Ah, the pathos, though.
Next comes a truly bizarre scene. Flo flamboyantly storms into the couple’s strangely luxurious apartment. Susann has been staying in bed for some time, in a funk over Guy. Flo and Mansfield then manage to break her out of it by convincing her to resume her personal odyssey for Fame and Fortune. Flo, as an argument, reveals that she also has a child, one she never sees. “Why?” Susann asks. “I don’t want to!” comes the merry reply. (This, remember, from a character I believe we’re supposed to like.) Jackie continues to mope, though. “But when?” she shrieks. “When is it going to happen? When is the World finally going to open its arms and say, ‘Jackie Susann, we love ya!'” Both Flo and Mansfield tell her they love her. “I need more,” our heroine asserts. “I needâ€¦mass love!” Woody Allen couldn’t create a character this self-absorbed, and again, we’re supposed to like her also. This also serves to introduces a tune cleverly entitled, “Mass Love.”
Mansfield takes Frou-Frou Dog for a walk, thinking over how to get his beloved wife the Mass Love she so clearly deserves. In the park he spots a young woman reading a Harold Robbins novel. (Oddly, it’s a tattered, yellowed copy of a Harold Robbins novel, almost as if a copy from, say, 1999 fell into a space/time wormhole and drifted back to the early ’60s.) That’s it! He runs home and tells Jackie she can gain her fame by becoming a novelist. And yes, that’s the film’s contention of how Susann became a writer.
Here’s a line: Prior to Mansfield revealing his brainstorm, Flo and Jackie are playing cards. Jackie reveals her intention to go on a hunger strike until she becomes famous. “Like whatsisnameâ€¦Gandhi.” she explains. “He got famous!” “And thin!” Flo ‘comically’ adds. Yechh.
To prove that she can write, Mansfield mentions the letters she writes Guy. “Like that one last week,” he continues, “where you described your new mink coat!” Again, could they make these people more repulsive if they were trying to?
Here we get into yet another weird patch. Susann argues that she can’t write a book, because she doesn’t know about anything, except a tawdry litany — which we get to hear at length — regarding the moral peccadilloes of movie stars and the like. Then, of course, everybody realizes that this is obvious crappy novel material. (Remember, by this time Harold Robbins was already a big author, so it’s not like this was new ground.) The thing, is, though, that the film has milked for some ‘humorous’ lengths the idea that Susann never came close to success in show business. So why would she know all this backstage info? Nowhere in the film have we really seen any indication that she’d be aware of any of this kind of stuff.
If you were envisioning a scene with Susann attempting to write her novel, full of little cuts and fade aways that each time show more and more wadded up pieces of paper on the floor, well, you have a future with the Jabootu Academy of Screenwriting®.
Sample of the film’s wit: Susann comes out to asks Mansfield, who’s talking on the phone, a question:
Susann: “Irving? Can I write about having orgasms?”
Mansfield: “Yes.” Back to caller: “You’ve never heard such typing. She’s a regular Shakespeare now!”
Susann: “Irving? What about orgasms in swimming pools?”
Mansfield: “Even better!” Back to caller: “Did you hear? Even Shakespeare didn’t think of that, on his best day!”
I’m sure that Susann was an atrocious hack. But why do Midler’s voiceover narrations of her work make her stuff sound so boring?
Sample of the film’s wit. Mansfield comes in to clarify a point:
Mansfield: “He wants her to perform “an unspeakable sexual act”? I’m lost.”
Susann: “Up the butt!”
Mansfield: “Ah. Gotcha.”
Sample of the film’s wit. Susann, dying from the suspense, waits for Mansfield’s response as he finishes her novel:
Mansfield: “It’s incredible! It’s likeâ€¦”Madam Bovery”!”
Susann, waving him off: “Name a real book!”
Jackie and Mansfield tour a series of publishers, each turning down the book because they’re all, as the film takes some pains to portray, squares. Jackie charmingly responds with foul-mouthed vulgarity, needless to say. After one such verbal assault, Mansfield ‘hilariously’ follows up by noting: “You’re talking to a lady!”
By this point in the film Midler was suddenly looking a great deal like Roseanne Barr. The resemblance was strong enough that I was able to get a laugh from Andrew but tacking on the words “â€¦and crap!” every time Susann finished a sentence.
The guy at Putnam reveals that they don’t want her book because they publish “Classic literary fiction. In the tradition of Faulkner and Melville.” Do those two really represent a ‘tradition’?
Jackie sees a young, unknown James Brown on The Ed Sullivan Show and squeals with amazed delight. “This guy’s gonna go far!” she predicts. I’m sure this incident is based on a true story from Susann’s life. Meanwhile, Brown’s singing “I feel good!” provides an ironic counterpoint to the news Mansfield’s just received on the phone. (Screenwriter 101.) Susann’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. We’d all feel happier about this news if there wasn’t an hour of movie left.
A huffy Jackie rushes over to the Tree with Mansfield and Frou-Frou Dog to berate (with copious use of the ‘f’ word, amongst others) God for giving her cancer. “You owe me! Big time!” she yells at Him. I’m not sure, but I don’t think this is what the Bible’s story of Job was meant to teach us.
We cut to a hip publishing house. We can tell it’s hip because everyone (except one, see following notes) is dressed like a hippie and the office is decorated with atrocious Technicolor taste. Plus “Hush” by Deep Purple is playing in the background.
Wow, three known actors embarrassing themselves in one scene! Starlet of the Moment Amada Peet is the hip young thing pushing Jackie’s book. Michael, the firm’s only square and the guy arguing against the purchase, is David Hyde Pierce, who plays brother Niles on Frasier. Meanwhile, the publisher, in a hideous ‘hip’ plaid suit, is, and I’m sorry to say this, John Cleese. Oh, John, how could you? Oh, and Cleese enters his office via a fireman’s pole. How wacky.
In comes a Hispanic — and hence presumably Catholic — cleaning lady. She admits she read the book last night when she came across the manuscript. (If she worked cleanup last night, why is she in at the start of the workday this morning?) She begins yelling about how filthy the book was, and at some length. Michael is relieved. “So you hated it?” he asks. (Three guesses where this is going.) “It is the finest book I have ever read,” she replies. Of course, as a Working Class Minority Member, her opinion is vastly better than the nerdy WASP Michael’s. Which is why she’s the high paid editor and he’s the cleaning lady. Oh, waitâ€¦
Why is Michael, the ‘hilariously’ repressed square, even working at the firm? So he can be assigned to be Susann’s editor, of course. Why, they’re the Original Odd Couple!
Michael shows up at Jackie’s apartment to start editing the book. This scene set off a bizarre series of ricocheting thoughts. See if you can follow all of this. First, it’s apparent from this film that Pierce is brilliant on Frasier for two reasons. First, Niles is a perfect part for him to play. Second, because the show is so well written. What I’m getting at is that Pierce plays Michael exactly as he plays Niles. He’s apparently one of those actors who can play one kind of part extremely well, but little else. Moreover, NBC used to have a show following Frasier called Stark Raving Mad. This starred Neil Patrick Harris, of Doogie Howser fame, as a prissy, uptight WASP editor who is assigned to work with a wacky and vulgar Life Force author, with supposedly comic results. Why, they were the Original Odd Couple! Anyway, the weird thing was that Harris played the part exactly like he was doing an expert impression of Pierce as Niles Crane. Watching the show right after Frasier week after week invoked a weird dÃ©jÃ vu, as if one were going from that program right to an episode of The Young Niles Crane Chronicles. Then, on top of that, you have this film, with Pierce playing a Niles Crane-clone prissy, uptight WASP editor who is assigned to work with a wacky and vulgar Life Force author, with supposedly comic results. If Start Raving Mad was a show seemingly about a younger Niles Crane in an alternate universe where he became a book editor, this film features that version of Niles twenty years later. It’s all very strange. And I’m not even going to go into the Jack Nicholson movie Wolf, where Pierce played a prissy, uptight WASP book editor.
As another indication of how square Michael is, when Mansfield orders him lox for breakfast, he doesn’t know what they are. This, from a guy who works in the publishing trade in New York city.
Another purportedly hilarious bit is that both Mansfield and Susann react to Michael’s arrival at eleven in the morning as is it were the break of day. Wow, what a wacky life they lead, eh, when eleven o’clock is referred to as “dawn.” Ho ho.
Michael explains Susann’s manuscript will need extensive editing, as it is “nigh onto incoherent.” Not understanding his big words, she confusedly replies, “And that’s bad?” Let’s see. So far, Susann has been rude, fame hungry, vulgar, blasphemous, self-absorbed and now completely stupid. Why are we supposed to like her again?
Hey, Mansfield just said the title again!
Comedy ensues (well, you knowâ€¦) when noisy people keep coming into the apartment, thus keeping the uptight Michael from beginning his job. It’s like the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera as directed by Satan.
When Michael demands a quiet place to work with Jackie, Mansfield says, “I know just the spot.” Cut to them entering Lindy’s, a famous restaurant of the time. See, it’s funny, because the place is in fact very busy and loud. Which means that it’s not quiet. Which was, as you might recall, what Michael had wanted. Hence the humor. See?
Still at Lindy’s. Because it’s tasteful, Susann is horrified by Michael’s suit. She orders Mansfield to hand over the pinkish suit jacket he’s wearing. Michael replies hotly “I am absolutely not going to wear Irving’s jacket.” Needless to say, we then cut to Michael seconds later and he’s got the jacket on. Man, that’s comedy! Mysteriously, even though actor Lane has a much more, uh, ample frame than actor Pierce (and is rather shorter, to boot), when we cut back to Michael wearing the coat it fits perfectly. Anyway, we can track Jackie’s positive influence on Michael throughout the movie by how his taste in clothing deteriorates.
When Michael receives his food, a bland cheese sandwich, Jackie charmingly quips, “Where were you raised, a f**king igloo?” First, huh? What? Second, nice language. Boy, that Jackie, she’s irrepressible, isn’t she? Third, why are she and Mansfield surprised when Michael’s food arrives? Weren’t they sitting right there when he ordered it? (Since the ordering occurred off-camera, I guess we weren’t supposed to think of that.)
Did educated people back in the early ’60s really use words like ‘schmoozefest’?
We cut to a gorgeous classic Cadillac driving down the road. To our horror it’s been defaced with a hideous shining silver poodle hood ornament. It turns out that Michael is directing them to the stately home of his patrician WASP parents in Connecticut. (Comedy Ahoy, eh?) A gracious looking older woman is seen, whom Michael identifies as his mother. “She gave birth?” the brassy Susann quips. Ha, that’s our Jackie, insulting people’s mothers and stuff.
When Mom states that her given name is Alicia, but that everyone’s calls her Lissy, Susann reacts with exaggerated bewilderment. “No. Come on. Come on, really.” she answers. Huh? What’s so weird about ‘Lissy’ being short for Alicia? This is one of those movies where we wish there was a laugh track, so that we can tell when the lines are supposed to be funny. There’s certainly no other way to tell.
Batten down the hatches for some hilarious exchanges as Michael and Susann bring their comically different aesthetic sensibilities to the editing process.
Michael is aghast at the inclusion of a lesbian relationship in the book. Then his elegant grandmother Mimsy comes into the room with an equally elderly and refined friend. Jackie immediately asks them about girls who had crushes on other girls when they were young. Mimsy’s friend gets all misty eyed as she remembers one lass she went to school with: “Tall, high breastedâ€¦” Of course, Michael is all red faced at this earthy girl talk. Ho ho! Score another one for Jackie, eh? Then, later, Michael continues critiquing the book. “Are you saying that if a man is sexy and good in bed, no woman is going to care that he [has the intellect of a seven year-old]?” This inevitably leads the nearby Mimsy to comment, “I certainly wouldn’t!” Man, there’s nothing that scream ‘comedy gold’ like refined old ladies swearing or talking about sex, is there?
Since this is such a rich vein of comic ore, we next cut to Michael’s father making his entrance. Why, he turns out to love the raunchiness of the book, too! (My mistake. When we met Mom earlier, I thought she’d be the one to consternate Michael by unexpectedly praising the book. So, as you can see, I was completely wrong.)
In case you’re missing the point, it’s that only a prissy, repressed nerd could object to a book purely on the grounds that it’s poorly written crap. Take that, Tolstoy!
Now that Michael’s been used as a comic foil (to the extent, anyway, that he has foiled anything comic), it’s time for some pathos. Michael accidentally finds the array of drugs Jackie is taking because of her cancer. She catches him at this, and we segue into a horribly maudlin scene of an angry Susann demanding that he not pity her. “I’m not sick! Sick people are losers!” she cries. Ah, another inspiring moment from Our Heroine. Amazingly, though, I think the intention was that we would, in fact, admire her brazen spunkiness here. Needless to say, the scene ends with a hug. Cue audience applause and ‘awww!’ noises.
Cut to Mansfield and Susann visiting Guy, now perhaps seven or eight years old. They include such a scene every twenty or thirty minutes (or just when we’ve about forgotten his existence) to pimp it for cheap emotionalism. Yeah, yeah, Jackie’s known such heartache and she’s so brave, yada yada. This is pretty offensive stuff, especially since we’re obviously supposed to care for Guy only in so far as he affects Susann.
The book, “Valley of the Dolls”, gets published and we waste a lot of time watching her vamp some teamsters who deliver the book and driving around the country kissing up to small town bookstore owners. In fact, such tactics were used by the real Susann to drive the novel’s success, and if the film contained a serious examination of her insights into the business of bookselling and publicity campaigns, the film would have been a lot more interesting. Needless to say, though, it’s all played instead for comedy, such as it is.
Especially weird is when, after a couple of scenes in bookstores, we watch her enter a convent library full of nuns. How would she sell books there? It’s not even a shop, it’s clearly a convent reading room. Of course, we then see a nun looking around slyly and sneaking off with a copy. Because, you know, it’s comical and all.
Back in the publishing office, Michael enters wearing a revolting plaid jacket. See, he’s getting better. Good thing he met Jackie. Meanwhile, we see that the book is on the bestseller list, just under works by the likes of Len Deighton and Graham Greene. That we’re expected to cheer her upcoming commercial triumph over such actual, you know, authors is somewhat risible, not to mention depressing.
Soon she’s appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson show, via that Forrest Gump technology. (Now I know why Carson quit.) Meanwhile, Mansfield watches from the Green Room, where the open-shirted boozing rock star next to him turns out to none other than Jim Morrison. (Now I know why Morrison died.)
Hey, Mansfield said the title! And it gets funnier every time!
I’m not even going to go into the scene where an interviewed Truman Capote is shown ripping on Susann’s book. At least they get in his famous (and well grounded) dig, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” Ah, no one could do bitchy like Capote. Of course, when you write actual books and stuff, that helps too.
Eventually we see “Valley of the Dolls” atop the bestseller list, right over Harold Robbins’ “The Adventurers”. And so goes the Decline of Western Civilization. Cleese and Pierce react with a horribly embarrassing bit of them *sigh* comically doing the twist. Good thing for them that no one ever saw this movie. And good thing for the people who didn’t see it, too.
Cut to a big party celebrating Jackie’s success. Horrid moments abound here. First, in an extremely tacky bit, we see Jackie discovering a lump on her breast as she prepares for the party. See, triumph and tragedy merge, yada yada. Oh, the irony. Then Cleese comes out to make a presentation while wearing an especially garish Nehru jacket with color-coordinated silk pants. Then actors (who are rather good) playing a young Steve and Edie come out to sing, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big”. Jackie grabs a mike and joins in; apparently because they figured they’d better get in a song for Bette somewhere. Listening to Midler sing, for a second you can almost forget what movie you’re watching. Almost.
Cleese announces that, at that point in time, “Valley of the Dolls” represented the best selling novel of all time. There’s a depressing factoid for you.
OK, here comes an utterly inexplicable, out of left field plot twist. (Although presumably based on ‘real’ life.) In the midst of the party, Mansfield looks upon Susann in all her glory and quietly leaves. I guess it’s that he feels he has no purpose in her life now that she’s gained the success she’s always wanted. The problem is that the film has played them as an adoring couple ever since they got together. There’s been not even a hint that Mansfield was considering leaving her. It just comes out of nowhere, and thus stinks of being a plot device.
Just to make sure we get how maudlin all this is, we’re provided with a scene of Mansfield making up big plans (that, god-like, we know will never come true) as he talks to the uncomprehending Guy. Hey, c’mon, the scriptwriter was handed an autistic kid on a platter, and you expect him not to milk it for everything it’s worth?!
Susann comes home to her apartment, empty except for Frou-Frou dog. Ah, the pathos. Will Jackie and Mansfield get back together again? More relevantly, are we supposed to care?
Susann goes to visit her pagan Tree God and, lo and behold, there’s Mansfield. The two engage in a long, drawn-out comical — c’mon, do I need to put ‘ ‘ around that word every time? — exchange where Jackie convinces him that she stills needs him as herâ€¦agent. Giggle giggle. The scene is humorous and romantic in equal proportions. Which, actually, is a completely honest statement.
As we (Thank Tree!) move towards the long-awaited end of the movie, we start glancing quickly over the events of Susann’s remaining ten years of life. If only they had used this technique from the beginning! So we see scenes of her great continued success. See the premiere of the honestly campy and enjoyable movie version of Valley of the Dolls! (If only this film were as enjoyable as that one!) See Susann on Ari Onassis’ yacht! See her visit the older Guy for one last exploitation of his illness!
Cut to (yay!) Susann on her deathbed at the hospital. Mirroring the earlier scene after Guy was born, Flo forces her way in to cheer Jackie up. It was here that I noticed an odd thing, which is that Stockard Channing, while hardly an exact double, looks quite a bit more like the striking Susann than Midler comes close to being. It justs brings up how weird the casting is. Anyway, let’s inventory: Tied up the rapprochement with Mansfield. Check. One last scene with Guy. Check. One last scene with Floâ€¦oh, and here comes Michael, too. Check, and check.
In order to provide for one last, and rather implausible, “You go, girl!” triumph, Michael reads her a telegram from a British publishing house. They’re offering to print her latest novel over there, but only if they can remove the profanity. (Of course, if they did that, it would hardly constitute a medium-sized magazine article anymore, much less a book.) Anyway, Susann bravely (?) refuses the offer (“Send them a telegram. ‘Dear England. F**k you. Love, Jackie Susann”), standing up for the Artistic Rights of worthless, overpaid hacks everywhere.
We end with Mansfield handling the container of her ashes, which is shaped like a book (!). Thanks for one last weird image to go.
The movie’s over!! Yay!!! Yay!!!