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ISN'T SHE GREAT

SYNOPSIS:
Struggling actress Jacqueline Susann (Bette Midler) always wanted to be famous. With no agent and no one calling for auditions, she scraped by with residuals from the occasional radio jingle, television commercial and game show appearance. Manager and publicist Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane) fell in love with her and knew he could make Jackie's dreams come true. Irving had a crazy idea: she would write a book. Never mind the fact that she had never written before. She would write about what she knew: the crazy, steamy lives of drug-addicted, sex-craved movie stars. It was called Valley of the Dolls - first of three bestsellers that turned the publishing world upside down.

"Don't take the film too literally, just sit back and wallow in the old troopers like Midler and Lane and Channing and Cleese give this material the once over - with lots of heart and a big wink. Although the basic facts are true enough, the detail and the characterisations are liberally massaged for pure entertainment value. And there is a good deal of that in this story, which in different hands could have turned out either mawkish or bitter. Director Andrew Bergman (to whom the world owes a debt of gratitude for his brilliant, seriously funny script of The In Laws), lets loose with his comedic instincts as he half caricatures Sussan, ably assisted by Bette Midler. I say half because we sense both he and writer Paul Rudnick have genuine affection and sympathy for the character, a woman who aggrendised herself on the sleaze of her Hollywood insider's experiences. Sussan's personal tragedies - a severely autistic son and the fatal cancer she managed to keep at bay for a decade - give the film's upbeat tone an undertow of pathos that works in its favour, understated as it is. Full of crackling lines and bursting with energy, the film is a happy and snappy chortle at what Sussan did - and how she did it."
Andrew L. Urban

"Both celebrating and ridiculing its trash-novelist heroine, who's presented as the ultimate in brassy vulgarity, Isn't She Great is a kind of riff on the concept of empty celebrity (set in the Swinging Sixties, era of Andy Warhol). Jacqueline Sussan, in this movie, is a superstar because, not in spite of, her lack of talent; likewise, this is an ultra-flimsy 'biopic' that deliberately sets out to be as campy and superficial as possible. On the face of it, this should have been a hoot, but it needed a more visually alert director than Andrew Bergman. There's an immediate letdown as soon as we get to the end of the opening credits, which are designed to look like covers for glossy bestseller novels, because Bergman can't provide any live-action equivalent for that glitzy, over-the-top style. Still, the sets and costumes have their moments, and there's certainly no shortage of '60s kitsch. You feel the film probably went into production based on the success of the Austin Powers movies, though the comic sensibility is more like diluted John Waters (Hairspray, Serial Mom). Either source fits well enough with Midler's abrasive performance, which is self-parody even for her. Personally, I prefer Nathan Lane, who has to be one of the funniest actors alive, even if he can't do much with this ultimate second banana role. (One of the film's key mysteries: are we really supposed to believe his character is heterosexual?) Ultimately, the uncertain tone may be due to the way these extremely limited caricatures have to be superimposed onto the life stories of actual people. When it comes to the less amusing aspects of Sussan's life (such as breast cancer, and an autistic child) the treatment hovers between spoof melodrama and fake sincerity in a way that's abjectly flat and meaningless."
Jake Wilson

"Isn't She Great sprang from a New Yorker article by Michael Korda - one of the two editors assigned by Simon & Schuster to edit Jackie's second novel - and adapted for the screen by Paul Rudnick (In & Out). It's a strange mix indeed, and keeps one wondering what the next line or plot twist will be. It goes from out-of-work actress to love story to family drama to success story to tragedy, and encompasses the full range of emotions to boot. However, many things are glossed over. How does Jackie support herself before meeting Irving? What does Irving see in her? How did she come to have this insider's information on Hollywood? And although they have an autistic son, the filmmakers don't seem to know what to do about it, spending only two strange scenes on the matter. Maybe it was meant to bolster the overarching theme - that love, persistence, and humility are God-sent gifts. But whether Jackie was the lovable, insightful woman as Bette Midler so characteristically portrays remains questionable - for she had few friends, fewer acting roles, and icy responses from initial publishing houses. But one thing's for sure; Isn't She Great has its heart in the right place, and paints a vivid picture of a time when, after all the rules were broken, the last taboo was for someone to tell the world every gory detail. For her part, Midler relies on her trademark shifting from loud and effervescent to emotive and humane. Lane is dutifully bland as the support-package husband, yet Stockard Channing steals the show as Jackie's more eccentric society friend. The film is fine, but could have been much more had bigger names in front and behind the scenes came to the party."
Shannon J Harvey

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

See our FEATURE

TRAILER

ISN'T SHE GREAT (M 15+)
(US)

CAST: Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, John Cleese, John Laroquette, Amanda Peet

DIRECTOR: Andrew Bergman

PRODUCER: Mike Lobell

SCRIPT: Paul Rudnick

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Karl Walter Lindenlaub

EDITOR: Barry Malkin

MUSIC: Burt Bacharach

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Wurtzel

RUNNING TIME: 99 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: REP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 1, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: October 25, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Rocvale







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