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Film / Soapdish

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"The Sun Also Sets: a show in which life not only imitated art, it topped it."

Soapdish is a 1991 comedy film which parodies the workings of an American Soap Opera. The real-life problems of the cast are so over the top that the Show Within a Show, The Sun Also Sets, would probably have a better story line if they covered the lives of the cast.

Sally Field plays Celeste Talbert, the neurotic star of the show, who believes her life is meaningless after playing a soap-opera character who suffers all sorts of problems over the more than 20 years she's been on the show (a kind of Shout-Out to All My Children's Susan Lucci who has played the same type of character) while her live-in boyfriend has gone back to his wife in Pittsburgh. She is also loathed by her castmates, most notably Ariel Maloney (Teri Hatcher) and Montana Moorehead (Cathy Moriarty), the latter of whom is scheming to have Celeste fired so she can take her place as the female lead. Celeste does, however, have an ally in Rose Schwartz (Whoopi Goldberg), the head writer of the series.

Montana enlists the help of the producer of The Sun Also Sets, David Seton Barnes (Robert Downey Jr.), promising to sleep with him if he gets rid of Celeste. The captivated David creates a new story line in which Celeste kills a homeless mute in self-defense to make the audience hate her. During this new story line, a very aggressive starlet (Elisabeth Shue) uses every trick she can think of to get on the show, and through an accidental viewing of rushes, she is chosen to be the homeless mute who stabs Celeste. But when Celeste sees the starlet, she recognizes her as her niece, Lori, and she becomes a regular cast member.

Montana and David's next ploy is to find a former castmember, Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline), who was dating Celeste until he was fired 20 years ago when their relationship went sour. He's doing dinner theater in Florida, and David offers him some enticements to come back as his original character (even though said character was decapitated); he leaps at the chance to get revenge on Celeste for his ruined career. Celeste is horrified that Jeffrey is back, and even more horrified that he and Lori seem to be attracted to each other (Jeffrey writes this off as jealousy, Lori as overprotectiveness, but the real reason shocks them both).

It's all Played for Laughs as the cast and crew backstab each other in a plot filled with more Soap Opera tropes than most actual soap operas.

Contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother:
    • One of the Parodied Tropes from soap operas; under pressure from David and Montana, who are scheming to make Celeste look and feel older, Maggie is revealed as Nurse Nan's mother, even though she is only a few years older than her.
    • Maggie is revealed to be Lori's mother, and there is only 17 years separating the actors' ages.
  • Aerith and Bob: Celeste's character, Maggie, is married to a much younger man named Bolt.
  • Ambiguously Gay: David, who admits he usually prefers slim, waifish women without makeup. It could explain his mysterious attraction to Montana.
  • Analogy Backfire / Godwin's Law: Celeste calls herself on this.
    David: I'm just following orders.
    Celeste: So was Hitler! No, wait, not Hitler, the other guy...
    Rose: Himmler.
    Celeste: No, no, no...
    David: Hess.
    Rose: Eichmann.
    David: Eichmann!
    Celeste: Yes! Eichmann. That's you!
  • Animated Credits Opening: The names of the producers, director, and primary cast members all appear in a cartoon sequence highlighting the characters' roles in the film.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Jeffrey knows Celeste too well - apparently her "incognito" trips to shopping malls in New Jersey to be recognized by her fans are nothing new.
    Jeffrey: What's your hurry anyway? Gotta get to the mall?
    (Celeste freezes, and has no response to his question except to slowly walk up to Jeffrey and slap him across the face.)
    Jeffrey: (unfazed) Give them my best in Paramus.
  • Artistic License – Film Production: It's unlikely that Celeste and Rose would be able to just walk right into the soundstage area during the filming of a scene; after all, there's a reason those warning signals are scattered around the studio. And if they could, then Celeste's noisily scampering about demanding to see script changes would surely have ruined the take, distracting cast and crew alike; at one point, whilst wrestling a copy of the script away from a cameraman, she manages to pull the camera completely out of position. It might be more believable had Celeste's movements been quieter and more subtle, but of course that wouldn't have been nearly as amusing.
  • As Himself: Leeza Gibbons and John Tesh are shown reporting on the goings-on at The Sun Also Sets in their capacities as presenters on Entertainment Tonight. They are listed in the credits as "Special Guest Stars".
  • The Atoner: During the closing credits, it seems that David has become this. Having spent the main part of the film joining Montana in scheming to remove Celeste from The Sun Also Sets, the following year he receives daytime television's top humanitarian award.
  • Back from the Dead: One of the spoofed soap opera tropes; Dr. Rod Randall, Jeffrey's character, somehow survived being decapitated years earlier, travelled in Europe, and became a famous doctor. This invokedFridge Logic is not lost on Rose.
    The guy was killed in an auto accident! I looked it up! He was driving in the Yukon, in a pink convertible, to visit his brother who's an ex-con named Francis, when a tractor trailer comes along and decapitates him! You know what that means!? It means he doesn't have a head! How am I suppose to write for a guy who doesn't have a head?! He's got no lips, no vocal cords! What do you want me to do!?
  • Big-Breast Pride: Ariel is very proud of her chest. In one scene, she is preparing for an entrance by adjusting her neckline to show off her cleavage to maximum effect. Then there's her first exchange with Jeffrey:
    Jeffrey: You have beautiful eyes.
    Ariel: They're nothing compared to my tits.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Celeste when Lori and Jeffrey are about to kiss on set.
    • Montana when it's revealed she used to be Milton.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Subverted by Montana. She thinks she's one. Everyone just sees her as a bitch, plain and simple.
      David: She's got a lot of spirit.
      Lori: She's a deranged bitch.
      David: True.
    • Lori Craven, however, is a straight example, as Montana learns.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Jeffrey needs thick glasses to read, but refuses to wear them on camera. This causes problems in the climactic scene when he has to read his lines off a teleprompter.
    Jeffrey: At the current rate of inflation, her brain will laterally explore the-
    Celeste: "Literally explode".
    Jeffrey: Exactly, within the next three houses-
    Celeste: "Hours".
    Jeffrey: Yes, will literally explode within the next three hours. I would suggest leaving the restraint.
    Celeste: "The restaurant".
    Jeffrey: Restaurant, yes.
    Celeste: Her brain will actually explode?
    Jeffrey: Yes, I've, uh... (looks over his fingers at teleprompter) I've seen it happen. It's a dreadful... it's a dreadful, dreadful thug... thing.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with the main characters' arrival at the Daytime Television Awards - except for Jeffrey, who is wasting away in dinner theatre in Florida. The other characters glare at Celeste with thinly disguised hatred as she receives her award. At the end of the film, the main characters are once again shown at the Daytime Television Awards - except for Montana, who is now the one wasting away in dinner theatre in Florida (and has gone back to being called Milton). Now, Celeste and Jeffrey beam with pride as Lori receives her award.
  • Brain Fever: One of the spoofed soap opera tropes. When the decision is made that Lori will be the one to get the axe, her character is revealed to have an acute case of brain fever.
  • Brand X: The "Daytime Television Awards" stand in for the Daytime Emmy Awards.
  • Brick Joke:
    • In an early scene, casting director Betsy Faye Sharon (Carrie Fisher) casts a young actor named Mark as a waiter with the single line "Will you be having wine with dinner?" on the "strength" of his performance without a shirt. In the climactic Live Episode, Mark finally appears as the waiter and gives a stiff, awkward rendition of the line "Will you be having wine with dinner?"
    • The headdress that Celeste refused to wear gets passed to Lori.
  • Bungled Suicide: Celeste steps in front of a bus to kill herself at one point. The bus stops and everyone recognizes her and asks for her autograph. Humorously, she's trying to Bus Crash herself!
  • The Bus Came Back: In parallel with Dr. Rod Randall's Back from the Dead return, the bus on which Jeffrey was put to suffer through twenty years of haemorrhoid commercial and dinner theatre wilderness returns after twenty years, to Celeste's horror.
  • Bus Crash: Jeffrey's character, Rod Randall, was decapitated in a car accident after Celeste became pregnant by Jeffrey and insisted he be written out of the series.
  • Canon Discontinuity: In-universe, as Rose's complaint about having to bring back a character who was decapitated.
  • Casting Couch: Betsy Faye Sharon is seen tugging her skirt down when Lori bursts into her office as the latest young, handsome actor leaves it while re-fastening his trousers.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: After her live-in boyfriend goes back to his wife and kids and her latest costumes on The Sun Also Sets are making her feel her age as never before, Celeste takes up smoking to deal with the stress.
  • Costume Porn: Fancy outfits are worn both on and off the show.
  • Dawson Casting: In-Universe, as David writes in The Reveal that Nurse Nan is Maggie's daughter, despite being almost the same age. Rose incredulously asks how it's possible, demanding to know if Maggie gave birth to her at age three.
  • Description Cut: Celeste's acceptance speech in the opening award ceremony features one.
    Celeste: I have so many people to thank. First of all, my fabulous supporting cast, who gives a new meaning to the word "support".
    (cut to the Sun Also Sets table; Ariel, David, and Montana are all sporting fake smiles)
    Ariel: Bitch.
    David: Hag.
    Montana: I hate her so much...
  • Dinner Theatre: In the first act of the film, the washed-up Jeffrey is playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at a rundown Florida dinner theatre. It's something he later describes as hell. Half the audience are too hard of hearing to know what he's saying, the other half are too distracted to care.
    Jeffrey (to Celeste): I was in hell! Put there by you!
  • Dueling Movies: With Delirious. Both films are comedies that came out in 1991 and revolve around the production of a Soap Opera in which life imitates art.
  • Drama Queen: Celeste. She wrecks stuff after her boyfriend leaves her. She's The Prima Donna on the show. She engineers "impromptu" autograph signing sessions at nearby shopping malls by going incognito but having a friend loudly "recognize" her, drawing in fansnote . She tries leaping in front of a bus, but does a dramatic pose when doing it (fortunately the bus driver stops when he, and several passengers, recognizes her from the show).
  • Faint in Shock:
    • Celeste's eyes roll up into her head and she collapses when she learns that Jeffrey will be reprising his role as the Back from the Dead Rod Randall.
    • Later in the movie, Tawny, the costume designer, also faints briefly upon learning that Montana Moorehead used to be a man.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Jeffrey's dinner theater gig, the nadir of his career after being fired from The Sun Also Sets.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Lori has grown up believing that her mother was Celeste's twin sister Simone, and that her parents died in an accident when she was a baby. When Celeste reveals that Simone never existed and Lori is actually her daughter, and that Jeffrey is Lori's father, Lori and Jeffrey are both outraged at Celeste for lying to them for twenty years and horrified that they had been romantically attracted to each other.
  • Fanservice: Courtesy of Ariel and Bolt (Paul Johansson).
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Jeffrey's bad eyesight is hinted at when he accidentally walks into David's office, believing it to be his dressing room, then squints at the name on the door; he is also clearly trying to hide his glasses during his first conversation with Lori. His bad eyesight and vanity regarding his glasses cause the climactic Live Episode to derail when he cannot read the teleprompter.
    • When giving Lori a goodnight kiss, Jeffrey instinctively gives her a very platonic kiss on the forehead, confusing them both.
    • Clues to Montana's past are sprinkled throughout the film. Her dressing room is full of gay iconography, like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: From Montana's perspective - she's starting to get Celeste off the show when from out of nowhere Lori begins to become even more popular.
  • Groin Attack: Celeste delivers one to Jeffrey after he deliberately ruins several takes of a kissing scene to get him to behave. Although he gets through the take, he doubles over in pain when the cameras stop rolling.
  • Handwave: Two in a row, In-Universe, during the live-broadcast climax:
    • Lori, trying to stop Celeste's character from being written off the show, suddenly shouts out (she's supposed to be mute); Montana, who has engineered this whole scene, quickly handwaves it as part of Lori's Soap Opera Disease in order to protect her own agenda:
      Lori: Mother, stop! Don't do it!
      Director: She spoke.
      Jeffrey: She spoke!
      Montana: Sudden speech, the last stages of brain fever! She could blow at any moment!
    • Countered immediately by Lori, as a Shut Up, Hannibal! to Montana:
      Lori: I could always talk!
  • Happy Ending: Celeste and Jeffrey reconcile, and watch Lori's career start to rise. The show recovers in the ratings. Montana has to start a career over... in dinner theater.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Ariel spends most of the film happy to watch Montana try to pull the rug from under Celeste, whom she also detests. But when Montana is sparked by the gradual thawing of tension between Celeste and Jeffrey to drag the latter's name through the mud by claiming to be having an affair with him, then upping the ante by claiming to be pregnant by him, Ariel, who is herself attracted to Jeffrey, decides enough is enough and recruits Rose's help in revealing that Montana is really a man named Milton.
  • Held Gaze: Constantly in the Show Within a Show, almost at Rocky Horror levels.
  • Heroic BSoD: Celeste has a massive one when Lori reveals that she has been on a date with Jeffrey. Rose drily remarks that someone who doesn't know her well might interpret her reaction as intense jealousy, but even she is unaware of the real reason for Celeste's horror - Lori is the daughter Jeffrey doesn't know he has.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Celeste's character on The Sun Also Sets prepares to undergo fatal brain surgery in order to save the life of Lori's character. It's also one for Celeste herself, sacrificing her own career to save Lori's; see invokedReality Subtext.
  • I Am Not Spock: In-universe. As if dinner theatre isn't bad enough, no-one can remember that Jeffrey is not called Willy Loman.
    Theatre Employee: Five minutes, Mr. Loman!
    Jeffrey: Don't - call me - Mr. - Loman! My name is Anderson! Anderson! ANDERSON!

    Theatre Employee: You got a visitor Mr. Loman!
    Jeffrey: (steadily getting louder) Stop calling me Mr. LOMAN!
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Not in words, but definitely in tone, at one point when Celeste and Lori are arguing in public and a fan approaches.
    Celeste: Do you mind? I am trying to have a life here!
    Fan: But I love you!
    Celeste: [suddenly sweet] And I love you.
  • Jumping the Shark: In-Universe, it's noted that the show has gone downhill since moving all the characters to Jamaica.
  • King Incognito: Well, Starlet Incognito. Whenever she's feeling down or needs an ego boost, Celeste visits shopping malls with Rose, who pretends to be a random passerby who "suddenly" recognizes Celeste, drawing in autograph seekers. It's implied that she does this fairly often.
  • Life Imitates Art: In-Universe, people note how the events in the movie are a "real life soap opera", and some even say it topped it. Heck, when Celeste tells the story about the lies she told when Lori was born, one of the writers asks "Why can't I write shit like this?".
  • Live Episode: Executive Edmund Edwards (Garry Marshall) decides to resolve the three-way standoff between Celeste, Jeffrey, and Lori with a live episode in which one of their characters will be written out; even they will not know which it will be until they read the teleprompter. Lori is the one being written out, but Celeste goes off script and offers to leave instead, despite Jeffrey's attempts to talk her out of it. Seeing what her mother is willing to give up for her, Lori breaks character and reconciles with both Celeste and Jeffrey. Finally, Montana's claim to be pregnant with Jeffrey's baby is disproved by Ariel and Rose's revelation that she is really a man called Milton. All broadcast live over the airwaves to what David claims is "the biggest audience in daytime television history".
  • Love Triangle: One of the soap opera tropes that spills off the screen with an unwittingly incestuous triangle between Celeste, Jeffrey, and Lori. Celeste has (repressed) unresolved feelings for Jeffrey, who admits to Lori that he initially asked her out to make Celeste jealous but found himself genuinely drawn to her.
    Jeffrey: Another week, and we would have had a Greek tragedy on our hands!
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Celeste reveals to Lori that she, not her (nonexistent) twin sister Simone, is her mother. And Jeffrey is her father.
    Celeste: No, you can't! You can't kiss her!
    Jeffrey: Why, because she's your niece?
    Celeste: No, you nitwit, because she's my daughter! And your daughter!
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: One of the spoofed soap opera tropes; used to explain how Rod Randall somehow survived being decapitated.
    David: They froze the head! They put it on ice and reattached it in a precedent setting two-day operation. Will you use your imagination?
  • Mr. Fanservice:
    • Maggie's much younger husband Bolt, as played by Blair Brennan (former Canadian basketball player Paul Johansson), is all muscles and no talent; he appears in one scene wearing nothing but a towel (to Celeste's disgust).
    • Mark (former Australian soccer player Costas Mandylor), the waiter who delivers the line "Will you be having wine with dinner?" in the Live Episode, is asked to audition without his shirt by Betsy Faye Sharon so that she can admire his athletic physique.
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: Inverted with Ariel. When Jeffrey compliments her eyes, she redirects his attention to her chest.
  • My Secret Pregnancy:
    • When Celeste became pregnant with Lori by Jeffrey, she was temporarily written out of The Sun Also Sets and had Jeffrey fired without telling him about her pregnancy, then returned to her childhood home in Iowa until the birth, giving Lori to her mother to raise. She would later tell Lori that her mother was Celeste's "twin sister" Simone, and that Simone and her husband had died in an accident when Lori was a baby.
    • Invoked by Montana, who "reveals" that she is pregnant with Jeffrey's child in order to gain some publicity. This claim is proven to be a lie when Rose and Ariel reveal that Montana's real name is Milton, and she is a he.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Montana's and David's attempts to ruin Celeste not only help reconcile with her ex lover and her daughter, but also boost the show's sagging ratings.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several examples, usually immediately before a Big "NO!"
    • Celeste gets this look on her face when she discovers that the latest script includes a kiss between Jeffrey as Dr. Randall and Lori as Angelique, as she knows (but they do not) that they are father and daughter.
    • Montana gets this look on her face when Ariel and Rose appear in the live episode with a high school yearbook which contains pictorial proof that she is actually Milton Moorehead of Syosset, Long Island.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Invoked in-universe by Rose.
    Celeste: Have you ever done anything really horrible to them?
    Rose: Aside from naming my twins Venus and Saturn, which was grist for the mill for ten years? Ten years! And my mother finally forgave me a year ago - but she keeps bringing it up at public holidays.
  • Parental Incest: Jeffrey and Lori are a couple before they find out they are father and daughter.
    Jeffrey: Another date, and we would have had a Greek tragedy on our hands!
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Sally Field, considered the poster child for sweetness and light character, shocks the audience when she complains about having a turban included in her wardrobe. "I don't feel quite right in a turban. What I feel like is Gloria Fucking Swanson!"
    • Field's outburst receives a Call-Back later in the film when Lori complains that her bright yellow hat makes her "look like a Goddamn Tweety Bird!" Like mother, like daughter.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few fur coats and wraps are worn by the actresses.
  • Reality Subtext: In-universe in the climactic Live Episode, in both the scripted and ad-libbed portions.
    • In the scripted portion, Dr. Randall and Maggie's distressed reactions to the news that Angelique has Brain Fever are clearly doubling as Jeffrey and Celeste's regret that their personal rancor has led to the demise of their daughter's dreams as an actress; Angelique's quiet resignation to her fate doubles as Lori's sad acceptance of being fired.
    • In the ad-libbed portion, Maggie "translating" Angelique's question about possible treatment doubles as Celeste trying to save Lori from being axed. When Nurse Nan suggests a brain transplant and Maggie volunteers herself as a donor, the subtext is Celeste volunteering to leave The Sun Also Sets instead of Lori; when Dr. Randall goes through a series of objections before relenting, Jeffrey is also trying to talk Celeste out of ending her long career before finally accepting her decision as something she has wanted to do for some time: "It'll be a relief."
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In-universe. All of the arguing between Celeste and Jeffrey over Lori becomes inextricably intertwined with the The Sun Also Sets plot. Lampshaded by Rose:
    Rose: Why can't I write shit like this?!
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: In-universe, when Jeffrey got Celeste pregnant, she had him fired from The Sun Also Sets to protect her "America's sweetheart" image (their relationship was public knowledge, but they weren't married). She went into hiding for the duration of her pregnancy, while his career plummeted to rock bottom.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Jeffrey's dressing room at the dinner theatre is starting to turn into this by the time David tracks him down; he has written "AGONY" and "more pain" on the mirror alongside a tally of how many performances he has endured so far.
  • Rule of Three: Played with when Celeste, Lori, and Jeffrey complain to the network about their situation. Celeste hysterically says she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Lori angrily says she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and Jeffrey says he "could conceivably have a breakdown".
  • Shoot the Money: In-Universe spoof. The ocean backdrop cost $100,000 to make, so it's used in almost every part of the show.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Family Relationship Switcheroo is a reference to Chinatown.
    • During the closing credits, David is identified as the winner of the "John E. Hockridge Humanitarian Award". John E. Hockridge was the film's first assistant director (in fact, his credit appears seconds before Leeza Gibbons lines David up for his post-award interview).
  • Soap Opera Disease: A spoofed soap opera trope with the mysterious condition which makes Angelique mute; initially written as curable, it is upgraded to Brain Fever for the Live Episode.
  • Soap Within a Show: The Sun Also Sets, a parody of long-running daytime soap operas, the stories in which are decidedly less interesting than those in the actors' personal lives.
  • Spiritual Successor; To Tootsie. Both even have a climactic Live Episode of their respective soap operas.
  • Tear Jerker: In-Universe, the crew tears up at the climax when Celeste reconciles with Lori and Jeffrey.
  • Time Marches On: Montana's fate would not be played for laughs by Hollywood in the 2020s.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: David begins gagging when it is revealed that Montana was born a man named Milton. It's hinted strongly at the end that David was coming to terms with his own sexuality.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Montana tells David that if he gets rid of Celeste, "Mr. Fuzzy" is his.
  • The Vamp: Montana. She has David dancing to her tune by promising to sleep with him if he gets rid of Celeste. After each scheme fails, she reminds him what lies in wait for him if he can make good on his promise, and in one case acts as though they have already slept together ("We were both naked and you promised! Naked!" "Hey! We were never naked!" "Well we could have been!").
  • Vertigo Effect: Used for Celeste's reaction shot just before interrupting Jeffrey and Lori's scripted kiss.
  • Wangst: invoked Celeste and her soap counterpart have a healthy dollop of this. Sometimes, Celeste reads lines from the show in a Wangst-y way in Real Life, which annoys Lori.
  • Wham Line: Another staple of soap operas which shows up off screen as well as on. "Because she's my daughter! And your daughter! We're her parents, you and I! We're her mommy and her daddy!"
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: David, Montana and Ariel all think Celeste is this, and Celeste even fears it.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: The trope is inverted when Celeste confesses about what happened with Jeffrey and Lori, and Rose asks why she can't write stuff that good.
  • World of Ham: Nearly everyone overacts, even more on set than in the actual show.