When it was released theatrically in 2002, Roger Kumble’s romantic comedy The Sweetest Thing was a commercial failure. While it did reasonable business on home video, it never particularly surfaced on anybody’s radar and received short shrift from critics. In more recent years it has bubbled up in conversation from time to time; not so enthusiastically as to be considered a cult work, but regularly enough to suggest a small and loyal fan base. It intrigued me for the odd reason that of its three stars, two of them – Selma Blair and Christina Applegate – have since been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I have MS as well: this shared disease has made me rather fond of both actors of late – patients of the world unite!
Interior designer Christina Waters (Cameron Diaz) is an aggressive and manipulative single woman who actively trawls the dating scene for men with her best friends Courtney Rockcliffe (Applegate) and Jane (Blair). After an angry encounter in a nightclub with a man named Peter Donahue (Thomas Jane), Christina becomes obsessed and begins to romantically pursue him.
It is as generic as its synopsis appears, packed with all of the conventional elements of an American romantic comedy: men and women who hate each other at first but who soon becomes besotted with one another, characters falling into one embarrassing scenario after another in their pursuit of their chosen love, simply-drawn characters and dialogue, and so on. It is quite the formula for success and has a perennial health audience. Like all cinema when undertaken well I find them very entertaining, and certainly the ‘rom-com’ is a genre that is regularly and unfairly starved of critical appreciation. The Sweetest Thing would seem to be just another generic and inoffensive addition to the pile, were it not for its oddly raunchy angle.
This is also a sex comedy, in a manner that is all-too-common when based around male protagonists but not so when based around women. The kinds of jokes packed into The Sweetest Thing are much more direct than the aforementioned conventional elements suggest. They are bold, crude, and deeply adolescent. On a personal level, I did not find they worked. Then again I generally do not find they work in a more traditionally male-centred sex comedy either, and it is refreshing to see someone attempt a female version of it (the screenplay is by writer/actor Nancy Pimental). Certainly the cast are game, and commit fully to the attempt. Selma Blair in particular gives one hundred per cent, and even if the jokes do often fall flat it is not for lack of effort or acting talent.
The cast is also surprisingly strong, with the likes of Applegate, Blair, Thomas Jane, Jason Bateman, and Parker Posey working to a commendable level. Applegate in particular has always been a strong comedy performer in both film and television. While she has never wanted for work, I have regularly felt Hollywood has not quite acknowledged just how effective and talented she is.
The Sweetest Thing does not work for me, but it is an enthusiastic and committed attempt. Comedy is highly subjective as well; what does not work for me may do brilliantly with you. If a raunchy comedy centered around women with a bold sense of sex positivity sounds like it may be your thing, it might be worth checking out. As I said, the fan base seems small but they’re there. It only takes 90 minutes to see if it’s worth joining them.