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Isn't She Great

Starring Bette Midler, Nathan Lane
Screenplay by Paul Rudnick
Based on an article by Michael Korda
Directed by Andrew Bergman

IN SHORT: No, she's not. [Rated R, minutes]

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am with this flick, which portrays the life story of novelist Jacqueline Susann. From her taste in clothes to the way she shook up the world of books, with down in the gutter page turners like Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough, the woman who redefined the word "trash" in almost every sense. All them books is the stuff my mom inhaled like air, which puts me right in the middle of a generational quandry. If you're out there looking at a cast list which stars Bette Midler and Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing and thinking "parent fare" well, you've nailed my demo. I like these guys. But I look at Jacqueline Susann and, if I were you, I'd rewrite the diss "grandparent fare," 'cuz Paul Rudnick's screenplay paints a sentimental sheen over the relatively short star life of a woman who, as portrayed, desperately desired stardom but was a miserable failure in her chosen career of actress. And it's still the stuff that my mom would eat up.

Then again, dropping dead on a Broadway stage (almost literally and definitely figuratively) landed Susann (Midler) a husband, publicity agent Irving Mansfield (Lane). In their remarkably spacious Manhattan apartment, they lived in simple oblivion of the riot of the 60s going on around them, dressed in clothes that would have made anyone in the 50s wince. Midler's Susann is bold, big mouthed and incredibly needy, forcing herself through bouts with cancer and the reality of dealing with an autistic child by sheer force of personality and heavy duty denial of reality.

All of which Bette nails to a "T". It's easy for Bette. She's been doing it for years, although with more emphasis on the profanity and smut as Sophie Tucker in her touring revue. Lane, as Mansfield, is devoted, dedicated and, in turn, emasculated, by the success of a wife whose novelist career was his idea. Lane is just as good as Midler but recreating a real life character isn't the same thing as making a character come alive on screen. 'Cuz neither of them do. My gut feeling is that the only "B" word missing from the list associated with Midler's work is "bitch." Her character would be, in any real life situation, almost insufferable. You can't gloss it over, as Lane's voiceover narration tries to do and the net result is that this flick lands with a thud.

The supporting cast, Stockard Channing as Susann's best friend Flo and David Hyde Pierce as her incredibly strait laced (and even more uptight than Pierce's Niles Crane teevee gig) book editor get the best lines and bring the only sparks to the screen. You could plot it on a chart. Channing shows up. Things get interesting. Then they sink back down and muddle through. And only John Cleese, as her book publisher, can out dress Dame Jacqueline. That's something you have to see to believe.

But I'm not recommending that you do.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Isn't She Great, he would have paid...


The name power would've been enough to get this old horse into the theater. The experience was like wading through a dirt cheap rental, waiting for that moment to happen when everything clicks into place. That moment never comes.

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