The time has come to correct a great injustice. Spurred on by President Obama’s lead in cleaning up the halls of justice, I too must take on the mantle of reformer to bring shameful period in American history to an end. My mission is simply this: to convince the world that Soapdish is a gay camp comedy classic that deserves even greater acclaim than it already has.
But, you may cry, we already think it’s pretty terrif’ and watch it when it comes on Comedy Central or TBS. Isn’t that enough, you say? And to that I say thee nay! It deserves so much than the occasional chuckle on basic cable. It deserves special Soapdish nights at gay bars. It merits deluxe-edition Bluray discs with outtakes and cast commentaries. And most of all it deserves your friends fighting over who gets to dress up as Dr. Monica Demonico and who goes as Nurse Nan on Halloween.
The 1991 flick certainly doesn’t lack for pedigree. Virtually every actor above the line either has an Oscar (Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg) or has been nominated for one (Elizabeth Shue, Robert Downey, Jr., Sally Kirkland). Except for poor Teri Hatcher, but, hey! She’s got a Golden Globe, and I’m sure those things are swell.
The plot in a nutshell: Producer Downey and actress Kirkland plot to drive Field off of their soap opera by having her character stab a beautiful homeless deaf/mute, played by Shue’s character, and by bringing back her ex-flame, Kevin Kline. But this being a soap opera, Shue is secretly the love child of Kline and Field and the whole thing culminates in a live edition of their show, with the characters reading their lines off a TelePrompTer.
Watch the trailer here.
But, really, the niceties of plot don’t matter that much. What does matter is that it’s incredibly hilarious, in the best tradition of screwball comedies. Rapid-fire banter, arch dialogue and shameless hamming, that’s what makes this movie run. Consider this scene with Downey, Goldberg (as the head writer) and Field, complaining about the implausible new script:
The script is loaded with a buffet of deliciously bitchy lines that even the least bitter queens should flock to. A turbaned Sally Field complains that she looks like “Gloria fucking Swanson,” Shue, costumed entirely in canary yellow, declares she resembles the “goddamned Tweety Bird!” Or as Field is thanking her co-stars after winning an award, Downey, Hatcher and Moriarty all mutter under their breath “Bitch.” “Hag.” “I hate her so much.” So many terrible insults you can use to pep up your conversations with friends and family. It’s a cunty gold mine.
And then there’s Cathy Moriarty’s Montana Moorhead playing Nurse Nan, the “deranged bitch” of the show. There’s much I do not understand in this world: string theory, how airplanes stay up in the air, the appeal of Owen Wilson. But chief among these mysteries is why drag queens the world over have not flocked to Montana Moorhead as their sine qua non of female impersonation. Instead of the umpteenth tired Liza clone listlessly lip-syncing to “New York, New York,” we could have platinum blonde amazons from Boston to Seattle mimicking every catty insult and breathless threat Montana launches.
Indulge me, please, as I repeat what may be my favorite lines: “You want to know what my childhood was like? I had no friends! I wore too much makeup! All the kids around me thought I was evil!” This could be the pinnacle of drag kabuki, and, queens, you’re letting it slip through your fingers! Plus, Montana is actually transgendered! She was a he! Although, the fact that she tempts Downey with what she calls “Mr. Fuzzy,” should’ve been a tip off. Montana Moorhead is a stone cold evil bitch with a cute nurse’s outfit and a smoky rasp—it’s like the writers were begging you to make her a camp icon.
So, gentle readers, I charge you with a solemn task, much as St. Paul entrusted the Ephesians to spread the gospel or as Cher exhorted us all to believe in a life after love. Go forth and tell your friends, tell the owners of your local gay bar or cabaret, tell your neighbor. Do not allow this camp comedy classic to lay nearly forgotten for another minute, but instead raise it to the lofty heights of Mommie Dearest, Showgirls and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? For myself, I will not rest until I can sit in some bar on a Tuesday night—whether it be in WeHo, Hell’s Kitchen or the Short North—and watch as a room full of gays, tipsy off of dollar shots, shout along to the insults and fling copies of “Death of a Salesman” up in the air. Then, and only then, will I rest in my mission.–Dixon Trotter Gaines