This forgotten 00s movie revolutionised sexuality on screen

‘The Sweetest Thing’ was trashed by critics as lewd and gross in 2002. Now, the hypersexual Cameron Diaz comedy is getting the credit it deserves.

by Tom George
|
12 April 2022, 4:15pm

Still from The Sweetest Thing

When we meet Cameron Diaz’s character Christina in the 2002 movie The Sweetest Thing, she’s dancing her way up a hill listening to the song “Sexual Revolution” by R&B and soul artist Macy Gray. Little did the actor or the movie’s director Roger Kumble know that the lyrics “this is my sexual revolution” soundtracking the movie’s opening would be so prescient. The Sweetest Thing took the gross-out humour usually reserved for heterosexual male characters and put it in the hands of three sexually empowered women.

On TikTok, where the film’s hashtag has over 11 million views, many are discovering just how unapologetically lewd and shocking — like jaw wide open the entire way through watching — the film is, especially one of the film’s most renowned moments: “The Penis Song”.

Upon its release, The Sweetest Thing was utterly trashed by critics, and underperformed at the box office. In its opening weekend the film made 9 million but was slated to make double digits. Reviews called the movie “fundamentally ugly”, and a “new peak” of “bad taste”. Released the same week as the high-stakes drama Changing Lanes (2002) and the Kristen Stewart-starring thriller Panic Room (2002), The Sweetest Thing failed to compete. For Roger Kumble and South Park screenwriter Nancy Pimental, a lot was riding on the film’s success. After directing Cruel Intentions (1999), Roger was looking to secure a production contract with Sony. But after the failure of Cruel Intentions 2, a straight-to-video prequel, and The Sweetest Thing, the deal ultimately fell through. Though Nancy had been in talks to produce another script before The Sweetest Thing’s release, the latter ended up being her final movie to date.

Starring Cameron Diaz as the womaniser Christina — reportedly, over one third of the $43 million budget went towards casting the actress who had established herself as the comedy hottie du jour in There’s Something about Mary (1998), Charlie’s Angels (2000) and, of course, Shrek (2001) — alongside Christina Applegate as fun-time Courtney and Selma Blair as horny sad-girl Jane. The three actors are definitely part of the reason why those born after the movie’s release are discovering and appreciating it now. So too has the stunningly y2k wardrobe.

We’re told early on that Christina’s mantra is “don’t go looking for Mr. Right. Look for Mr. Right Now and eventually, if he’s worthy, one day that now part is just going to drop away”. After meeting ‘the one’ on a night out, much of the movie follows a chaotic roadtrip to find him so Christina can confess her feelings to her mystery club beau. It’s a film that doesn’t have a whole lot of plot, with storylines threads — such as Jane being caught at work having sex in the fitting rooms and the fallout from a disrupted wedding — often leading nowhere. But what it lacks in narrative, it more than compensates with horniness.

Its rich in bawdy conversations and hilarious, intensely lewd moments. When Jane takes her cum-stained dress to a dry cleaner, who presses her on what the weird substance sticking to the garment is (even giving it a lick), all in the presence of her vicar, old school teacher and their new class of innocent children; to a moment where one of the girls gets a ‘Prince Albert’ stuck around her uvula (that lil’ dangly thing swinging in the back of your throat, as Cardi B would say) during a blowjob as the others sing Aerosmith to relax her. “This movie is ✨ unhinged ✨ in the best possible way” surmised one comment in a TikTok review. In 2018, Christina Applegate told Entertainment Weekly during a cast reunion that the original script was even more R-rated but was cut down out of fear they’d gone too far.

This unapologetic sexuality culminates in one of the greatest movie musical numbers of all time. Sitting in a restaurant, the besties loudly recreate the exaggerated moans they fake to inflate the ego’s of male sexual partners. Whilst initially the tables around all gasp in shock at the brazen horniness, soon the entire place erupts into a choreographed performance of a song about telling men — in their best porn star voice — they’re simply “too big to fit in here”. With the line “my body is a movie and your penis is the star”, the trio take heteronormative masculine desires to such a hyperbolic state as to render them ridiculous.

In the early 2000s — a time when Janet Jackson was being shunned from the entire music industry for a wardrobe malfunction and Paris Hilton was the butt of jokes about a non-consensually leaked sex tapeThe Sweetest Thing was then pretty at odds with mainstream views of female sexuality. Unsurprisingly, critics, most of them men, hated it. One critic complained that the movie was filled with “degrading, unfunny ‘jokes’ that make you feel unclean just watching them”. The BBC said “the overriding effect of watching these actresses debase themselves is the cinematic equivalent of a motorway car wreck.” Interestingly, they compared its overt-lewdness to American Pie (1999) unfavourably — but giving the latter a positive review.

Its here the movie most starkly reveals a gendered double standard when it comes to comedy and what is allowed and forgiven. Male characters such as Stifler in American Pie can be lewd, crude and rude, but for a female character it is simply unacceptable. You have to respect the three lead actors for taking a risk in a culture that often tried to take down anyone who was unapologetically sexual who wasn’t a straight man.

“It was really pretty pioneering for women. Now it seems, 'Yeah, sure. We can all be silly.' It was a big deal to fill that space without your credibility being taken away,” Selma Blair told ET in 2021. She also revealed to EW during the cast reunion that she thinks she was cast by default because no other actor’s agents would let them film Jane’s blowjob scene. “I was like, ‘It’s Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate, are you f—ing kidding me? Yes, I will have a penis in my mouth!’” she added.

Of course, this was not the first time female sexuality beyond the realms of male titillation appeared on screen. Sex and the City, which started two years prior, had caused a frenzy with its modern and empowering attitude towards sex, but even that had boundaries The Sweetest Thing pushed far beyond. In fact, 20 years later, The Sweetest Thing remains anomalous in film in its crudeness. Its no surprise then on TikTok, a lawless land where users share their most intimate of icks, kinks, L’s and fetishes, The Sweetest Thing is thriving.

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Film
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