The Sweetest Thing writer Nancy Pimental sets record straight on film's true inspiration
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Nearly 16 years after being dubbed one of the worst films of 2002, The Sweetest Thing has risen from the ashes as a quotable cult fan-favorite hit.
The film starred Cameron Diaz as the promiscuous Christina Walters, who, after a brief encounter with potential soul mate Peter (Thomas Jane), sets out on a ridiculous road trip with best friend Courtney (Christina Applegate) to what they think is his brother Roger’s (Jason Bateman) wedding. All the while, the duo tries to help their newly single friend Jane (Selma Blair) get back on the horse.
The Sweetest Thing, written by Nancy Pimental and directed by Roger Kumble, ended up standing the test of time partly because it inspired a new generation of girls behaving badly films. As the forerunner to movies like Bridemaids, Girls Trip, and Bad Moms, The Sweetest Thing gave an unabashed inside look at how women really behave.
“The film really has such a crazy cult following, because it didn’t really do great in the theaters, but it’s pretty amazing how it still lives on in the privacy of people’s homes,” Pimental tells EW.
But Pimental says she intended for The Sweetest Thing to be a very different film than what ended up in theaters, and also subsequently on an unrated version of the DVD. Below, the writer reveals what could’ve been, and the truth behind the inspiration of the film – no, it’s not actually based on her friendship with Kate Walsh. (Read our NSFW convo with Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair about filming The Sweetest Thing here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The trio says the original script had a lot more raunchy moments that ended up getting cut from the final product.
NANCY PIMENTAL: Here’s the thing, I was still on South Park at the time when I wrote this, and what I always say about myself, my sense of humor, my sensibility, and the raunch-factor of my voice is, I feel like I’m a 12-year-old boy. I feel like my sense of humor’s like a 12-year-old boy. When somebody makes sexual humor in an adult way, it makes me cringe and makes me really uncomfortable. I kind of look at it in such a 12-year-old boy sort of way. It’s goofy, almost like a Monty Python kind of way, more silly. Back then, there weren’t a lot of female-driven R-rated comedies, and so I think that there was a gap.
But there was some misconnects with people not knowing what the tone was, or not understanding the tone. I was such a new baby writer back then. If I had to do it over again, I would be more active in the process, I guess, of the production and the pre-production. I’ve worked on Shameless now for eight years, and we all produce our own episodes, and we have tone meetings on our episodes and we sit there with the director for hours and hours and hours and hours, and we go over every single page and every single scene and let the director know what’s the tone, what’s the spirit, what were we intending, what do we see. It’s so helpful. I didn’t know to do that. I wasn’t invited to do that. I think people are handed a script, so it’s left to their own interpretation of what that tone is. I just didn’t know.
I think things could have survived had I been able to articulate, “Oh, here’s what my intention was.” Also, back then screenwriters weren’t as [involved]. It sort of became the director’s movie once the director was hired, and screenwriters weren’t notorious back then for having a say. I’m just so much more vocal now than I was before. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault, I think it just was a misinterpretation of tone sometimes.
Still, the movie was really the forerunner to films like Bridesmaids and Girls Trip. Did it hit you at the time that you were pushing some boundaries?
I didn’t know I was necessarily paving the way. I was so in the middle of my blossoming career that I was certainly getting messages, not necessarily always about The Sweetest Thing, but just kind of where I was in my career and the things that I was writing. I was [also] doing standup comedy at the time. I was on the road doing standup comedy in these really, really sh—ty one-nighters in bars and saloons in Montana and Idaho. I would walk in and the owners of these bars would be like, “Wow, we never had a woman here before. Good luck, honey.” I was getting messages like that in everything I was doing. Things I would be writing, even before I sold anything, and I was struggling.
South Park was my first way into the business, but before that, I would write stuff and people would call me in for meetings and they were like, “Your writing is really interesting, but we don’t know what to do with you.” There was a lot of those messages I was getting from people, which I felt like was a positive thing, and also just being on the road so much in all of these towns, I would have these women come up to me and say, “You’re speaking for me, we don’t have people speaking for us.” I kind of knew something was percolating, but could I say, “Oh yes, I am leading it!”? No, I just knew it was bubbling and people were ready for it.
What came with the decision to write in a musical number all about penis?
Well, I mentioned this already, but Monty Python was certainly a big influence for me. I’ll never forget when I’d gotten on South Park, I got a lot of attention and people were wanting to meet with me. I remember meeting with Ivan Reitman, he was looking to redo the movie Gidget, and I was like, “I don’t know, I feel like that’s so soft, and it’s kind of not my voice.” This is all I remember saying to him, I go, “I want to write a movie, and I don’t even know what the movie is, but I want to have the movie where suddenly they break out into song about gonorrhea.” I don’t even know where that came from, and I never even used that, but that was something in my notes. I remember I pictured this song about gonorrhea on the subway. He just looked at me like I was crazy, absolutely like I was crazy. “I don’t even understand what you’re saying, girl, what’s the movie, and it has a song about gonorrhea, that makes no sense.”
Then I just realized I have to write something on spec so people at least get what I want to do. Then yes, I think probably in some version it was a gonorrhea song, but then that all switched over to a penis song. I don’t know, it just was inspired because I wanted this celebratory female, here we are and here’s how we deal with the penis song.
Yes, the ladies did note that it’s a very dick-heavy movie.
So there was a bidding war for the script, and obviously Sony got it, but there was an executive over at Universal who was really bummed out she didn’t get it. She sent me this congratulatory basket of cookies that were in the shape of penises and boobs. [Laughs]
Were you surprised when the penis song only ended up on the unrated version of the DVD?
I think it was a decision the studio made. Again, I would say that the song became a casualty of misinterpretation of tone, because the way that I had written it was much more — and this is going to be the third time I say it, and I certainly don’t mean to think that I’m anywhere near John Cleese or any of those guys on Monty Python — but I had envisioned it a lot more like, [opera-esque singing] “Oh my god, your penis is so big,” like Monty Python would do it, sort of celebratory and kind of a march and marching around the restaurant, as opposed to playing into the sexuality of it. That’s something that, for me, has always been that weird window. I feel like if you’re saying things that are sexual, then don’t play it for the sexuality, if that makes sense.
I used to do improv comedy, and there was this girl who was really beautiful in our group and would wear skimpy little outfits, and then she would play really slutty sexual characters and wouldn’t get a laugh. I would say to her, “Your presentation, you’ve got that sexuality covered. That box is checked. You’re beautiful and sexual, so play the opposite and that’s where the laughs come in,” because seeing what Jenny McCarthy did at the beginning of her career, she’s so beautiful and Playboy, but then she’d squirt mustard on herself. That equals comedy, doing what you’re not expecting. If you’re expecting somebody that’s sexual to be grabbing their titties like that, it’s not as funny. I think that those girls are so beautiful, Christina and Selma and Cameron, that I felt like the tone, again, was just a mismatch in the tone of how the studio wanted, and how it came out at the end. It should have been them being more goofy and silly. And like I said, I write like a 12-year-old boy, so having it be more like that I think it may have ended up onscreen as opposed to just on the DVD, because it was playing more into the sexuality as opposed to more the campiness. I just thought it should have been campier.
There’s a rumor this film is based on your friendship with Kate Walsh. True or False?
That’s a little bit of fake news. Here’s what happened. Before I wrote the movie, I was waitressing at this place on Sunset Plaza. There was a restaurant called Le Petit Four. It was all women, they wouldn’t hire men, which that’s illegal, so they wouldn’t admit that they weren’t hiring men. Anytime a man came in, they were like, “You’re not qualified.” I’m still friends with these women 15 years later. We just ran in this pack where we were these waitresses, and there was always these write-ups about us in magazines, because the place was really popular and a lot of Saudi princes would go there, and they would call us the Calvin Klein model waitresses. It was this weird attention that we got at this restaurant. We made so much money. I mean, I can remember one table gave me a $1500 tip. It was crazy, we were making so much money at the time, and getting invited to these Saudi parties and stuff like that.
There was this group of girls and we were running around town and partying at these different clubs and just owning our womanhood, I guess. It’s not like we were really sleeping around with any of them or anything, but we were just owning our womanhood. I just thought, “God, there’s not an example of this sort of girl posse where we’re more like guys.” Yeah, we decide if we want to give you a fake number or not kind of thing. There wasn’t this empowerment, I guess, or this example of it. Anyway, that’s really how it started.
Then what happened was, at the time I was friends with Kate. I mean, I’m still friends with her. What happened was, the movie was about to be released on DVD and somebody in Sony’s marketing department called me and said, “Hey, we would like to do a feature for the extra features on the DVD? You can do whatever you want. We’re going to send a film crew over to your house on Friday.” I was like, “What, are you serious? It doesn’t even make sense to me.” I said, “Oh, how about if I do something called The day in the life of a big Hollywood screenwriter? It was going to be very tongue-in-cheek and ironic. All the actor friends that I had, I just called them over and I was like, “I think there’s a film crew coming to my house Friday afternoon. Why don’t you guys all just come over and if they do actually come here we’ll just make this thing up on the fly?”
What’s weird about it is, all these actors like Dash Mihok was here and Brian Van Holt and Kate Walsh, and we did this behind the scenes of a big Hollywood screenwriter, but it was all very tongue in cheek. Kate had said in this thing that we were best friends and the movie was based on our friendship. What’s funny is, Dash Mihok played my gay assistant in this and wore one of my spandex bra tops, and also Brian Van Holt said he was my pool boy. It’s so funny how people just said, “Oh, well the part that Kate said must be true.” Nobody was going, “Oh, well Dash is her assistant, that’s weird, and Brian Van Holt, that’s her pool boy.” Nobody looked at the whole thing together and said, “Oh, this must be a joke because I know Dash isn’t really her assistant, he’s a working actor.” Yeah, Kate had just said that, so that has kind of lived on in infamy, and we just laugh about it.
The crew that came over here, I ended up doing EPK with them for years and years. That crew travels around. They shot so much footage. I thought they were going to cut it down to a funny three-minute thing. They ended up making it 20 minutes. I’m surprised that Sony put it on the DVD. Even that, people don’t totally know, “Wait, is this real, is it not?” Yeah, I just think it’s funny.
Were moments like the glory hole, the penis stuck in Jane’s mouth, and the purple elephant based on your own real-life experiences?
Well the purple elephant, Roger [Kumble] kind of incorporated that, that wasn’t in the script. He embellished that and made that a bigger moment in the movie. But there was a friend of mine at the time who was dating this guy who was a super punk guy, he was pierced all over, and she did get his piercing caught behind her tonsils. Everything had some sort of origin, a lot of stuff, definitely. The glory hole, I can’t remember what it was, but there was definitely something at the time. I want to say that it was something that happened to a friend of mine in Boston. Yeah, everything had a little bit of something in there.
The trio joked that these moments all seem relatively tame to what we see in films now. Do you feel like, in hindsight, that’s true? That if you did The Sweetest Thing now, you’d have to up the ante?
I hate to wag the dog with anything I write. That was a big thing that I learned from Trey [Parker] and Matt [Stone] on South Park was that the outrageousness never led the story. The story was the first moment. Every episode had to start with a story that had a beginning and a middle and an end. It’s out of the story and out of the characters and out of the situation the big moments came. I like to think that I don’t write for the sake of shock or being gratuitous, but the characters inform where the outrageousness wants to go. In this day and age, I think if I were writing it today, the characters would probably inform me of something bigger and more outrageous, because our bar is so much higher, and we are more desensitized.
And lastly, would you be interested in writing a sequel to The Sweetest Thing?
Yes, I would.
Read our NSFW convo with Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair about filming The Sweetest Thing here.