Movies give us a lonely view of life: They focus on a hero, a bad guy, a best friend, and the rest of the world gets cast as extras. But reality is more crowded than that — think of all the people you deal with in the course of one day — and so is the Screen Actors Guild. Sometimes it seems a shame how many interesting faces get pushed to the background while the romantic leads are making out.

Thank goodness, then, for ensemble comedies like Soapdish, new to video and stuffed to the brim with big names, little names, and no-names. True, the face on the tape box belongs to Sally Field but this movie isn’t star package. Is a democracy of talent, offering one miniature star turn after another.

Soapdish, a backstage farce about a soap opera titled The Sun Also Sets was stridently ”kooky” on the big screen — it wouldn’t let go of your lapels. But because it’s about TV, the movie settles in comfortably on the tube, like an ingenious sitcom (or is that a paradox?). Soapdish has none of the humanity or intelligence of Tootsie, and it doesn’t want them. It’s a cartoon from the get-go.

Comedy this broad needs performers who can go from zero to 60 in seconds if it’s going to be good, and Soapdish has them; rarely will you witness such splendidly timed overacting. Farce has never been Sally Field’s strong suit — she’s too earnestly determined — but here, as an aging daytime diva whose life is unraveling on camera and off, she amusingly plays off her you-like-me persona. Cathy Moriarty is a Kmart force of nature as the show’s reigning bitch, and Robert Downey Jr. is admirably snarky as her boss — toady (some reviewers thought him miscast, but he’s just a souped-up variant of Murphy Brown‘s Miles Silverberg). Then there’s Kevin Kline, trading on his own image as the-great-actor-who-gets-no-mainstream-respect with maximum wit.

Want more? There are marvelous stiletto-like appearances by Carrie Fisher and Garry Marshall. There’s a deft little turn by Kathy Najimy as Fields’ costumer. Oh, yes, and there’s Whoopi Goldberg daring to underplay and practically stealing the show as The Sun Also Sets‘ head writer. The one weak link is Elizabeth Shue as an Eve Harrington-like ingenue: She’s too gentle to fit in with such a prize bunch of hams. Still, how often do you get to see a film this generous with its actors? Soapdish is about as subtle as a kick in the head, but even more than City Slickers, it dares to treat everyone in its cast like a star. B

  • Movie
  • 97 minutes