THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Spoiler warning: In order to convey my feelings about this film, certain jokes have to be given away. If you don't want to know what happens, do not read any further.

About two weeks ago, I reviewed National Lampoon's Van Wilder. In my review, I said the film was "yet another in the seemingly endless line of envelope-pushing 'grossout' comedies that are a dime a dozen these days." Now, just a step behind, comes The Sweetest Thing, yet another comedy that pushes the boundaries of good taste. Outrageous humor is so hard to do because when done incorrectly, the result is just sleazy. When done right (as There's Something About Mary and American Pie proved), the result can become a comedy classic. The problem is that movies today seem to be in a competition to outdo one another in the grossness department, which in turn means that there are more and more sleazy movies in cinemas than ever before. The Sweetest Thing isn't the worst of them, nor is it the best. It gets more things right than wrong though, which makes it at least worth a moderate recommendation.

Cameron Diaz, Selma Blair, and Christina Applegate hit the singles scene in The Sweetest Thing
Whereas most grossout comedies star men, this one is all about the women. Cameron Diaz plays Christina Walters, a notorious heartbreaker who, as one guy says, "can have any man she wants." The problem is that she doesn't want any of them for long. Christina is interested in sex, not commitment. In some ways, men frighten her. It's easier to love 'em and leave 'em than it is to just love 'em. She spends her evenings club-hopping with her best friends, the equally promiscuous Courtney (Christina Applegate) and the conservative Jane (Selma Blair).

One evening, Christina has a run-in with Peter Donahue (Thomas Jane). They do a little talking, a little flirting. Peter casually mentions that he's attending his brother's wedding over the weekend. Despite their chemistry, Christina doesn't pursue him. Later, she is surprised to find that she can't get him out of her mind. Courtney notices her friend's longing and suggests that they crash the wedding so Christina can see her dream man again. They embark on a road trip to the small California town three hours north of San Francisco where the wedding is to be held. As in all romantic comedies, there are complications that threaten to keep them apart, but does anyone really doubt that Christina will abandon her carefree ways in favor of true love?

Meanwhile, Jane finally lands a guy and, at the urging of her friends, decides to try loosening up sexually. The man she's dating turns out to be, uh, very well-proportioned. In one scene, Jane performs oral sex on him and gets his pierced member stuck in the back of her throat.

What?!?! Is this kind of thing allowable in an R-rated, non-pornographic movie? Yes. Van Wilder featured a scene in which fraternity brothers gleefully drank dog semen, so this seems relatively mild in comparison. The scene is a perfect example of what I mean when I say comedies compete in their grossness. For me, Jane's predicament went too far. Comedy is often about humiliation, but here's a case of one stepping over the line. It's really uncomfortable to watch, especially since the room is filled with onlookers snickering as emergency workers try to get Jane free.

Thankfully - no, make that blessedly - The Sweetest Thing goes too far only in that scene. Most of the other outrageous moments manage to be funny in a slightly dirty sort of way. I admit that I laughed when Courtney drops something on the floor of the car and Christina bends over to find it. Both women are (for reasons I won't go into) in their underwear. A biker passes their car, peeks in, and what he sees looks suspiciously like one woman performing oral sex on another. (This picture is big on oral sex jokes.) He's so aroused that he crashes his bike. I think this is also the first movie I can remember that builds an entire scene around "glory holes." If you don't know what a glory hole is, I'm not going to tell you.

There's a lot of other sexually suggestive material in the movie, although not all of it is quite this explicit. While trying on dresses as a clothing shop, Christina declares that it is time for a movie montage. We then get a gratuitous montage of Diaz and Applegate dressed up as different pop culture icons, from Olivia Newton-John in Grease to Madonna. Dress-up montages are one of the oldest and most tiresome cliches in motion picture history. I've been waiting years for a film to mock the convention by blatantly breaking the fourth wall in this way. It's pretty funny stuff.

Christina's sexual fantasy involving hourly sex and calorie-free ice cream is also legitimately hilarious. Some of the other parts made me chuckle too. So why does this movie work as compared to Van Wilder or some of the other pictures in the grossout genre? It works because of the actresses. Check out Diaz in There's Something About Mary. Or Applegate on TV's "Married With Children." Or Blair in Legally Blonde. What do they all have in common? They're really talented at comedy. Somehow, the actresses use their talents to soften the material. A few of the gags (no pun intended) come off like cheap stunts, but in general the stars take the risque dialogue and elevate it. These characters talk and joke about sexual matters, much as men do. Because the actresses have so much chemistry together, the dialogue becomes "girl talk" and somehow seems more realistic, less show-offy. Even when their characters are suffering some form of humiliation, the stars mostly keep it from being horrific by finding the humor in it themselves.

The Sweetest Thing may be seen by some as a clever turning of the tables, as women are now cast in the same kind of raunchy, sexaholic roles usually occupied by men. I'm not sure I buy this movie as a feminist statement; that would be akin to saying a movie about a female serial killer is a feminist statement since movie serial killers are usually men. Still, I enjoyed it in the same way that I enjoy Kevin Smith movies - as an examination of the way people talk about taboo things. The Sweetest Thing is not as funny as any of Smith's pictures, but it made me laugh. And in a film like this, that is the only defense for liking it.

Note: I noticed that a number of scenes featured in the preview have been left out of the film's final cut. I wonder if their inclusion would strengthen the story a little more. Hopefully, director Roger Kumble will include the missing scenes on the eventual DVD release.

( out of four)

The Sweetest Thing is rated R for strong sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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