"Isn't She Great" tells the story of Jacqueline Susann's rise to fame. And if you've never heard of her, that's because you weren't around in the Sixties. Based on the 1995 "New Yorker" article 'Wasn't She Great', "Isn't She Great" pays homage to the world's most famous bad writer, who unleashed onto an unsuspecting world such 'literary classics' as "Valley of the Dolls", "The Love Machine", and "Once is not Enough".
As an aspiring actress, Jacqueline Susann (Bette Midler of "First Wives Club") never got any breaks. Whether it was working on the stage, in radio, or on television, the fame she much desired eluded her at every step, which was usually due to her loud and obnoxious personality. Then one day, her manager/publicist/husband Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane, the voice of the cat in "Stuart Little") came up with a brilliant idea-- Jacqueline would become a famous writer.
But what would she write about? All Jacqueline knew about were 'aging stars, hopeful hookers, and people popping pills and winding up in the gutter', and 'nobody writes books about that' she argued. This formed the seed for her first novel, "Valley of the Dolls". Though Jacqueline was anything but a good writer and her voyeuristic peek into the sex and sin of Hollywood was rejected by a number of respectable publishing houses, this 'salacious, perverted, soft-core porn' novel quickly made it onto the bestseller list and eventually became the best-selling novel of the time.
This is a light and undemanding fairy tale from director Andrew Bergman, whose resume, appropriately enough, includes "Striptease" and "It Could Happen to You". At first glance, it is completely unlike your average biopic, with its light and bouncy atmosphere, often trashy dialogue, and over-the-top acting that borders on hammy. Definitely not a film to be taken seriously-- which is exactly in the Jacqueline Susann style. If you watch "Isn't She Great" with this mindset, then it's harmless fun. However, I'm sure a number of critics will lambaste the film for its obvious flaws and miss the joke entirely (same as how these same critics probably missed the boat on "Wild Things"). If you take it for what it is, you'll have a good time.
Part of what makes "Isn't She Great" a lot of fun is Midler. Though Midler's portrayal of Jacqueline is hardly sympathetic, she's a lot of fun to watch as she chews up scenery with her boorish behavior and sniping comments. Lane does has a few good moments, but it's mainly Midler's show.
Rounding out the cast are a number of familiar faces. The most memorable performance would have to be Stockard Channing (currently seen as the First Lady on NBC's "The West Wing"), whose tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Jacqueline's not-so-bright best friend steals a number of scenes. David Hyde Pierce (from TV's "Frasier") is okay as Jacqueline's rigid editor, though it's mostly a one-note part. Finally, John Cleese of "Monty Python" fame is surprisingly restrained as the publisher willing to give Jacqueline her big break.
In summary, "Isn't She Great" isn't your father's biographical film. Functioning more as a satire than a true-to-life biopic, this is a film that downplays the pathos and conflict to make more room for some great one-liners and acerbic commentary. Jacqueline Susann was no Shakespeare, but she did leave an indelible mark (or blemish, depending on how you see it) on popular culture, particularly for those of the Baby Boom generation. In the immortal words of George Plimpton in his cameo from "EdTV", "Isn't She Great" is a 'celebration of boobery'.