America’s Sweethearts (2001)

Directed by Joe Roth

Catherine Zeta-Jones and John John Cusack are America’s Sweethearts.

With movies, the wonderful thing about low expectations is that the worst they can do is meet them. It’s like the underdog team in the playoffs. They’re expected to lose and if they do, you don’t really mind. Yes, you’re a bit disappointed but you’re grateful for the effort as you mutter, in a cliché way, “There’s always next year …”

If you don’t expect much of certain movies, when they surprise you in a good way it’s quite the thrill.

Why do we expect little from some movies? (Or, rather, expect the worst from them.) It’s partly hype. They’ve been marketed in a way that completely misleads us as to what the movie is, or they’ve simply been over-sold. There’s too much hype. You just want them to go away. They’re too “Hollywood.”

The other reason is the reviews they receive. They come out and seem to be an excuse for reviewers to tear someone apart. They’re trashed. Everyone seems to hate them, often for a variety of reasons.

On the weekend, I picked up some PV (previously viewed) movies, which Blockbuster prefers to call previously enjoyed, the boneheads. The disks were America’s Sweethearts and The Animal. In both cases, I was pleasantly surprised. While certainly not great, they were definitely enjoyable in the Hollywood fashion.

America’s Sweethearts

I’ve been avoiding this movie for quite a while now. While I’ve walked by it and thought about picking it up, I’ve passed every time based on the reviews. Everyone seemed to agree it was dung from the Hollywood heap.

Now that I’ve seen it, and really enjoyed it, I don’t quite know why it was trashed the way it was except for the fact it’s pretty much exactly what you should expect.

First of all, look at who is in it: Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Consider that it was co-written by Billy Crystal, the guy from the City Slickers movies.

What the hell kind of movie did people think they were going to see? This movie is exactly what people should expect and it succeeds partly because it IS exactly what you should expect.

Julia Roberts and Billy Crystal in America’s Sweethearts.

It’s formula Hollywood and, as Shakespeare knew, formula works. Stories aren’t necessarily good because they break the mold; often, they’re bad because they do.

America’s Sweethearts is a type of movie, the Hollywood romantic comedy. Roger Ebert is disappointed because it isn’t satirical enough; it doesn’t capitalize by really pushing its opportunities to skewer Hollywood.

However, if it did, it would break the formula and become one of those tedious black comedies (like One Night at McCool’s) that dissolve into confused, cinematic rants at the cost of character and story.

The romantic comedy that America’s Sweethearts falls into can’t become too mean, it has to maintain a gloss of “niceness,” because if it loses this, it loses its audience. It becomes the kind of art that no one wants to see because it fails to connect with them. It becomes more satire than romantic comedy and satire, while it can be funny, rarely satisfies the way drama or good comedy do because, at its core, its not about people. It’s about making fun of people. Or, more accurately, it’s not about individuals, it’s about groups.

John Cusack, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

A romantic comedy can contain satirical elements, but when the satire dominates or if the elements are too pronounced, it gets into trouble. It loses its emotional anchor.

(This is why satire tends to have a short life span; it quickly becomes forgettable. It lacks an emotional anchor. Once it tries to incorporate an emotional anchor, it either ceases to be satire or becomes a confused film.)

This isn’t to say America’s Sweethearts is a great movie; far from it. But it is a good movie of the Hollywood variety.

If you don’t like this kind of movie (and many people don’t), you should avoid it. But if you do like romantic comedies, this is a good one – not great, but good. (And it’s very good when you can get it at a cheap PV price.)

© 2002 Piddleville Inc.

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