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The Last Place You Look: "The Sweetest Thing"

This breezy, raunchy female comedy tries on different forms of genre and realism as though the entire movie were a fitting room.

The Sweetest Thing (Roger Kumble, 2002)

The success of Bridesmaids aside, the raunchy female comedy is still a fairly rare subgenre in American filmmaking. To further muddy the waters as to what constitutes this genre, a lot of these films are written by women but directed by men—Bridesmaids fits this category, as do Dirty Love (John Asher, 2005), What's Your Number? (Mark Mylod, 2011), and the charmingly playful The Sweetest Thing (Roger Kumble, 2002). There are many things to like in Bridesmaids, but it does still lumber along with the same old Apatowesque narrative bloat that infects a lot of mainstream US comedy. But The Sweetest Thing is breezy. It tries on different forms of genre and realism as though the entire movie were a fitting room. (There's even a scene that virtually literalizes this interpretation, if you've seen the movie.) Impromptu musical, buddy movie, romantic comedy: The Sweetest Thing is like a tour.

This scene is set-up like a sitcom or a cartoon. In a period where women are often encouraged to embrace their own objectification as a form of empowerment (see debates concerning Spring Breakers), it can be refreshing to see examples of women in comedic roles who can toy with the possibilities of sexual attraction without simply subordinating themselves to them. Here, Cameron Diaz goes looking for the lip gloss on the car floor, ass end up. The biker who passes by presumes some erotic activity, which Christina Applegate takes as an opportunity to have some fun. The biker, by the way, seems a reimagination of the Wolf from Tex Avery's 1943 Red Hot Riding Hood. His manner is animated in multiple senses of the word—he hops on his seat, he grinds his pelvis, he howls. When he crashes, he survives. In this brief sequence, the three actors are performing characters in three different “realities”: Diaz as innocent friend, biker as an energized onlooker, Applegate as ludic puppetmaster. There are three degrees of knowledge corresponding to these realities: Diaz knows nothing, the biker thinks he knows something, and Applegate actually knows something. It is simple, elegant, and what's more it is light and disposable. On to the next! Much of The Sweetest Thing is built around these connections where characters misread what they encounter, underlining the importance of context for constructing the meaning of a sound or an image.


Part of our on-going video series, The Last Place You Look

I know I’m going to sound like an old biddy, a scold, and a completely humorless buzzkill, but you’ve got to be effen kidding me with wasting even an ounce of your grey matter on this indefensibly godawful movie. Calling a movie like this light and disposable is kind of apt, though, because when you say it like that you make it sound as if the movie is a tampon, which I wholeheartedly agree on.
I’ve never seen the film, but if this clip is indicative of its quality, it must be great.
Mac, the focus of my occasional series here at Mubi is to look at films (or aspects & examples) that have sort of slipped through the cracks. It is not necessarily a ‘hidden gems’ or ‘underrated’ feature though. Some people, among them is yourself, aren’t going to want to use up any of that old gray matter on this movie. That is OK. Instead I want to look at the weird, the intriguing, the indicative, and the unconventional in the otherwise conventional postclassical US fiction cinema. I do personally enjoy THE SWEETEST THING; I have weakness for gross out comedy and dumb playful buddy movies. But the purpose here is not to convince you or anyone that it is “great.” I simply want to highlight an interesting (to me) feature: the light, ambulatory tour through plastic genres or modes of performance & realism. Also, I certainly don’t think there is anything wasteful about writing a few paragraphs that pose a few semi-serious questions about non-serious culture. I am not trying to elevate anything here. To me though it is always a matter of one’s questions and observations rather than the pedigree of one’s object of analysis.
The incorporation of PUTNEY SWOPE into Robert Wiede’s JOHNNY B. GOODE is the only good moment in the entire movie.
Zach, there really is no point to feeding the local MUBI troll. Thanks for your thoughts on this movie!
I saw this movie in the theater, somehow, and although Roger Kumble will have to answer for making a movie about environmentalist squirrels sabotaging a housing complex as well as for putting Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit, The Sweetest Thing is not without its charms, as Zach so helpfully points out (I must admit, I had forgotten!).
I don’t think Mac is really trolling too much. I’ve seen the film and it is, aside from a few scenes like the one above, a rather conventional mainstream comedy and maybe a precursor with some few moments for the films of Apatow, in their many gross-out and explicative antics among friends concerned with the sexual aspect of relationships. To be honest it is rather surprising to see it having an article on Mubi, though if Zach was able to find merit worth documenting then that’s his call to do so. Likewise I think Mac also addresses a fairly expected counterpoint.
How could anyone dismiss The Sweetest Thing? The dry cleaning scene, the entire ‘Too Big to Fit in Here’ scene (especially the set up, the random guy in the restaurant with the keyboard??), the stuck scene, any given club scene, not to mention the chemistry between the leads. Classic.

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