Monday, January 27, 2014

Movies You May Have Missed - Soapdish (1991)

I hadn't seen Soapdish since its release, but I remember finding it fun and colorful and refreshingly harebrained—a glossy, big-production world of soap opera within a daytime soap opera. While saavy about TV production and particularly daytime (and nighttime) drama of the era, director Michael Hoffman and his production team were hellbent on wowing us with incredible set design and a super-solid cast of comedy players.

Released in '91, this is a movie that celebrates the big-screen possibilities and excesses of the 80s. It should be brought back for revival screenings because everything about it is absurd and gigantic—from the hair and makeup, to the multi-layered set designs and frantic background movement that recalls 30s-era screwball comedy, to the histrionic swings of emotions. And what a cast—Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Cathy Moriarty (always so great on the big screen), Robert Downey Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Shue,with smaller roles filled by Carrie Fisher (the great Carrie Fisher in a small role!), Teri Hatcher, Garry Marshall, Kathy Najimy, and Paul Johansson in teeny tank-top, oiled and muscular for his every scene. A DREAM CAST with big hair, freaked out mannerisms, conniving ways, and life-altering secrets that wreak havoc on all.

Sally Field is Celeste Talbert—America's favorite daytime-drama queen. She's been playing the role as Maggie on The Sun Also Sets for so long that younger, ambitious cast members Montana Moorehead (Moriarty, seethingly vicious in every scene) and Ariel Maloney (Hatcher), can't wait to get her kicked off the show. To that end, Montana sexually strings along producer David Barnes (Downey Jr., who's too young to be a producer, yet so funny and perfect as a spoiled, frustrated boy-man). David will only get Montana's goods if he gets rid of Celeste, which is difficult to do, since she keeps winning awards for her role. Their machinations result in real-life drama's intrusion into their glossy hyper-emotional television world,.

The Sun Also Sets is hitting a ratings slump. David's idea of moving the entire setup to (indoor, obviously phony) Jamaica and setting the drama within a soup kitchen full of island homeless extras hasn't helped. Some drastic casting decisions will be made, resulting in turning Celeste's professional and personal life inside out. Much sobbing and scheming ensues. Sally Field is such a good sport throughout the film. She's not afraid to let her emotions gush forth, making herself farcical to great effect. I'm not sure many actresses could have succeeded with this blend of unsullied clowning, alongside genuine ability to express realistic emotional-upset, which burbles out of her squinched-up face, scene after scene.

Then there's Kevin Kline. Who is better at playing handsome, arrogant, and hapless all at once? The guy's a national treasure. Here he's Jeffrey Anderson, stuck playing Willy Loman in a Miami dinner theater full of retirees in the midst of dementia. Add to this mix Whoopi Goldberg as Rose Schwartz, Celeste's exasperated longtime friend and head writer on the show, and Carrie Fisher as a man-hungry casting director, reversing the casting-couch gender stereotype with aplomb, and you got yourself a perfect Saturday-afternoon fun-time movie experience.

And now:

From the opening credits—pop-art, color-block cartoons, you get the proper setting for screwball daytime-drama comedy. You also think you're back in the 80s in a big way, and you might as well be with all the big hair, power suits and big-production values on display.

Celeste is having a bad day. The mirroring of her master-bedroom Boston ferns with her hairstyle is a clue to the fun set-design to come. 

Celeste's reactions to bad news are always funny yet heartfelt. That's why she's America's favorite tragedy queen.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey is doing Arthur Miller dinner theater, shouting his lines over breaking plates and near-deaf patrons.

Yes, we're in Florida now, in case you were wondering

More great set design. "Jamaica" exterior/interior set with rolling wave (mesmerizing to watch and used to great effect). Sparkly sand and endless sunset complete the look.

Down the halls of television they go. Lots of walking and talking in this film, with background "crew members" cleaning, setting lights, plugging things in, fixing hair, all manner of production shenanigans to keep the pace frantic and screwy.

Love Moriarty's "villain wear" - Downey Jr. may have ad-libbed some dialogue to great deadpan effect

Ratings are down—time for a creative meeting! An overhead shot conveys the true heart at the center of daytime drama—a surprisingly large number of men murmuring and glad-handing among one another.

Fisher plays one of the few women in power, whose elaborate office-set leads me to believe her role may have been bigger initially.

Somebody appreciates the male form

Elizabeth Shue makes her entrance. This set is completely insane, and bigger than most New York apartments.

Kevin Kline enthusiastically portrays self-centeredness sans dignity—that's what makes him great.

Set-design shorthand for deal-making in Florida.

Montana reacts to Celeste's heartbreak. Cathy Moriarty can do it all—farce and drama. She starred in Raging Bull for Crissakes... Here we see some of the fantastical two-storied glass-walled set in the palatial television studio where everyone works. Through these windows, production never stops so there's always background action, not only in the deep background, but going up and down lifts and cranes as well.

An anonymous worker on a lift going down, watches Celeste trying not to have her own breakdown while dealing with her nonplussed wardrobe assistant, Tawny (Najimy). A running theme, Celeste's age, and how this is reflected in her wardrobe and storylines, makes this a comedy of manners of being middle-aged in a youth-obsessed medium (and society).

Of course David's hobby is building remote-controlled vehicles, to emphasize his childishness.

Rose has had enough, dealing with the soap opera conspiracies and diva-ish behavior on a daily basis. This is another angle on David's office, which looks like a rich-kid's idea of a cool supper-club of the time.

More of David's lair. In the background—marionettes of the show's cast (never explained). In the foreground, sacks of mail, reflecting a huge ratings boost, back when mail could convey this. Now I suppose it would be shown in tweets, which wouldn't be very cinematic.

A glimpse of the elaborate set for a day's filming. On the left, Ariel adjusts her dress for maximum cleavage, Celeste's on-screen husband, Bolt, does pushups before his scene while Tawny oils him down. On the right, Celeste and Jeffrey rehearse while the foreground crew gets ready to roll. I wouldn't be surprised if the makers of "30 Rock" viewed Soapdish at some point during pre-production.

And we're rolling! Teri Hatcher as Ariel Maloney, playing Dr. Monica Demonico—neurosurgeon.

Rose's fishbowl of an office. Immediately before this scene, David conducts an interview with Leeza Gibbons (playing herself) on an automatic lift that glides down in the foreground before this scene between Celeste and Rose. A great use of set-design as scene-transition! Those light sconces are pretty great too.

Soapdish has it all...




And most of all, television!

1 comment:

Marc R Steffans said...

Absolutely in my top 10 movies, no one saw. Hilarious.