Isn't She Great
Given the choice of two different biopics about Valley Of The Dolls author Jacqueline Susann, which would you rather see? The one about the would-be Hollywood starlet who turned her life of boozing, pill-popping, bisexuality (including alleged lesbian encounters with Coco Chanel and Ethel Merman), and ruthless self-promotion into the trashiest roman a clef ever committed to print? Or the one about the feisty career woman who raises an autistic son, talks to God through a tree in Central Park, and loses a noble fight with breast cancer? Normally sane—perhaps too sane—director Andrew Bergman (The Freshman, Honeymoon In Vegas) and writer Paul Rudnick (Addams Family Values, In & Out) bet on the latter with Isn't She Great, which is insipid enough to rival Susann's all-time bestseller, yet not nearly as entertaining. There's probably a great comedy to be made from the source material, Michael Korda's 1995 New Yorker article about his experiences as her editor (albeit not on Valley Of The Dolls, as the film implies). But Rudnick, whose jokey screenplays quell the cattiness of his "Libby Gelman-Waxner" columns in Premiere, broadens it to include Susann's marriage (minus infidelities) to her devoted agent (Nathan Lane), not to mention the son, the cancer, and other treacly material. Part of the problem is that the Bette Midler of 20 years ago might have embraced the author's full-blown vulgarity, but the refashioned Midler of today demands sympathy and sweeping emotional range. It's impossible to tell how much Isn't She Great was tailored to accommodate its star, but the tastefulness emanating from both sides of the camera is deadly. In spirit alone, even Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer's parody Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, which has absolutely nothing to do with Jacqueline Susann's life story, makes for a more convincing biography.