Isn't She Great

on January 28, 2000 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
   It may seem especially mean-spirited to come down on this well-meaning, clearly affectionate glossy attempt to portray the life of pulp novelist Jacqueline Susann, but Andrew Bergman and Paul Rudnick's cutesy "Isn't She Great" is anything but. Overly broad, heavy-handed and tiresomely crass, this bleak tale, festooned in the rock candy colors of the 1960s, makes it hard for even camp queen Bette Midler to rise above its shallow vulgarity.
   After a promising opening establishing Susann (Midler) as a major wannabe stuck on the fringes of the entertainment business--from forgettable radio shows to two-bit advertising to a corny game show (from which she's fired)--the story settles into bitchy schmaltz with a sticky voice-over narrative from Susann's husband, agent Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane), describing his wife's insatiable craving for fame--which he helped her attain. When Irving stumbles upon the idea of having Susann write a book, the infamously trashy Hollywood saga and publishing sensation "The Valley of the Dolls" is born.
   The best parts of the film follow the desperate attempts of an uptight editor (played with customary primness by David Hyde Pierce) to tame Susann's in-your-face tastelessness and the subsequent amazing publicity stunts that placed the book on the top of the best-seller list.
   In an effort to give Susann more dimension than just the shrill, pushy pain-in-the-ass that she evidently was, Rudnick resorts to endless, fantastically tacky costume changes for Midler and a silly recurring gimmick of having her demand her fair share from God, who apparently hangs out in a tree in Central Park. The feeble attempts at dramatizing the real tragedies of Susann's life (breast cancer and an autistic son) barely register amidst the surrounding gaudiness.
   Despite Midler's game attempts (when Susann joins in singing with Steve-and-Edie look- alikes at one point, you wish she'd simply ditch the charade and belt out a few tunes), the only bright spots are the always captivating Stockard Channing, who glows in the small role of Susann's best friend, and the black poodle playing Susann's canine companion, Josephine. Starring Bette Midler, Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing. Directed by Andrew Bergman. Written by Paul Rudnick. Produced by Mike Lobell. A Universal release. Comedy. Running time: 94 min
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