We still don’t see many mainstream films that approach certain themes with the same vigor and freedom.
Coming into the production of the underrated 2002 comedy The Sweetest Thing, nearly all of the talent involved was riding high. Star Cameron Diaz was fresh off the blockbuster hits Charlie’s Angels and Shrek and her most critically-acclaimed performance in Vanilla Sky. Director Roger Kumble and co-star Selma Blair had everyone talking with Cruel Intentions. And writer Nancy Pimental, who based the Diaz and Christina Applegate characters on herself and actress Kate Walsh, had recently completed a three-year stint writing for South Park. All of the ingredients were in place for a sexy, funny, confident film. And they delivered, even if critics and audiences didn’t catch on at the time.
It’s not as if we weren’t ready for female-fronted, sex-positive content. “Sex and the City” was in the middle of its historic run on HBO, Nicole Kidman was dominating Hollywood with a variety of risky leading roles in films like Moulin Rouge, The Others and The Hours and female sexuality was being explored in new and interesting ways (for American film) in movies like Mullholland Drive, Unfaithful and Ghost World.
However, “Sex and the City” was a romance-fueled fantasy, a constant four-way search for Mr. Right. Kidman was operating in prestige cinema and had recently freed herself from a couch-jumping Tom Cruise. And while female sexuality was fit for the aforementioned dramas, comedy – and raunchy comedy, at that – was something entirely different. Perhaps most salient is that all of the projects listed were created by men (though “Sex and the City” was based on a book by Candace Bushnell). Though The Sweetest Thing was directed by a man, it was written and produced by women. And while its three leading ladies were looking for love, the focus of the film is not only their friendship but the crazy fun they have on the way. Men are allowed to enjoy themselves – or at least live lives – on their comedic quests for love, while cinematic women are supposed to be focused on romance for the sake of completing themselves. These women laugh, embarrass themselves, work hard, sing, dance and make fun of each other while looking for romance.
The story follows Christina (Diaz), an interior designer, Courtney (Applegate), a divorce lawyer, and Jane (Blair), who works retail. Jane’s love life is a wreck, so to get her over it Courtney and Christina take her out dancing. It’s there that Christina meets Peter (Thomas Jane) and his brother Roger (Jason Bateman), and Christina, despite her own denials, develops instant feelings for Peter.
Peter tells Christina about the wedding he’s attending that weekend and then they part, though Courtney realizes that Christina has fallen pretty hard. Once this happens, the gags start coming harder and harder. Though The Sweetest Thing pre-dated The Hangover by seven years, the film’s commitment to raunch is just as pronounced. Again, the difference here is that Hollywood doesn’t usually allow women to be raunchy. This, of course, led to marketing revolving around the film’s central love story and pristine shots of the beautiful leads rather than the film’s true content. For instance, Jane, who ended up meeting a new guy at the club, has to go to the dry cleaner’s the next day to have a stain removed from her dress. As the stain was the result of an intimate encounter with her new beau, she is hesitant to share its true nature with her curious dry cleaner, who takes his investigation into its origins to shocking heights. This is immediately followed (in the uncut version, superior to the theatrical cut) by “The Penis Song,” a now classic ditty that finds the three women singing and dancing (with back-up of course) about all of the massive penises encountered in their lives. It’s pure Hollywood magic.
This is followed by plenty of simulated blowjobs, a cunnilingus fantasy, a girls’ road trip, an accident at a glory hole, a touching duet of “Escape” (the Pina Colada song), a fashion montage (with hats fit for the Royal Ascot), sex with a man in an elephant costume and much, much more. It’s a consistent delight, a constant ode to both female friendship and the female libido, which isn’t treated as a taboo topic but rather than a vital one.
It would be nice to say that we’ve come so far in the 17 years since the film was released, but we still don’t see many mainstream films that approach these themes with the same vigor and freedom. But we can hope, and in the meantime, watch The Sweetest Thing again and give it the appreciation it deserves.