Soapdish is a 1991 comedy film which tells a backstage story of the cast and crew of a popular fictional television soap opera. It stars Sally Field as an aging soap star, joined by Kevin Kline, Robert Downey, Jr., Elisabeth Shue, Whoopi Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, Cathy Moriarty, Garry Marshall, Kathy Najimy, and Carrie Fisher, as well as cameo appearances by TV personalities like Leeza Gibbons, John Tesh (both playing themselves as Entertainment Tonight hosts/reporters), real-life soap opera actors, Stephen Nichols and Finola Hughes and Ben Stein. Kline was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for the film.
Soapdish was directed by Michael Hoffman, from a screenplay by Robert Harling and Andrew Bergman. The film was produced by Aaron Spelling and Field's then-husband Alan Greisman.
Celeste Talbert, the longtime star of the struggling daytime drama The Sun Also Sets, is targeted by her jealous costar Montana Moorehead; Montana connives to supplant Celeste as the show's star by promising sexual favors to its producer, David Seton Barnes. To make the audience hate Celeste's character, Montana and David come up with a last-minute plot change in which she will accidentally kill a young, destitute deaf-mute, played by the newly-cast Lori Craven. Despite the strong objections of Head Writer Rose Schwartz and Celeste herself, the scene plays out, but is interrupted by Celeste's recognition of Lori as her real-life niece. Network honcho Edmund Edwards sees potential in the relationship and makes Lori a regular cast member, as Celeste tries to talk her niece out of an acting career.
Montana and David seek to further unnerve Celeste by bringing back Jeffrey Anderson, an actor who had been fired from The Sun Also Sets (and his character decapitated) decades before after his romantic relationship with Celeste had gone sour. Bitter at being reduced to performing dinner theater for uninterested seniors in Florida, Jeffrey relishes the chance to needle Celeste. Outwardly despising Jeffrey but perhaps still harboring some feelings for him, Celeste is horrified as he and the much-younger Lori develop a close friendship. Later on in dramatic fashion, Celeste stops a scripted onscreen kiss between Lori and Jeffrey by revealing that Lori is actually her daughter by Jeffrey. On camera, Celeste explains that she had been responsible for getting Jeffrey fired because of the pregnancy, and had passed Lori off as her niece due to pressure from the network. This incites disgust and scorn from nearly everyone on the show towards Celeste, but the scandal ignites renewed interest in the show, causing the ratings to skyrocket. A board meeting between the show's staff--including Rose, who speaks out in Celeste's defense--takes place thereafter, where David insists that she be fired, but he is quickly overruled as the situation has not only resulted in positive press for the show, but has generated a great deal of public sympathy for Celeste. The next day, after an unpleasant exchange with Lori, Celeste goes to Jeffrey and pleads with him to speak to Lori on her behalf. Jeffrey is resistant at first, but after Celeste gives him advice on how to approach her and break the ice, the conversation leads to Celeste and Jeffrey embracing. Just when it seems the two are about to reconcile, Montana interrupts them and slyly implies that she and Jeffrey slept together the previous night. Disgusted, Celeste storms off, leaving the situation between her and Jeffrey even worse than before. The dilemma is further inflamed when Rose--who by now is no longer angry with Celeste--shows her a tabloid newspaper proclaiming that Montana is pregnant with Jeffrey's child. After an explosive exchange between the three of them takes place over this, Celeste, Jeffrey and Lori go to the head of the network with their concerns and demand that some action must be taken to solve the problem. But it's Lori who delivers an ultimatum stating "It's them or me--that is the bottom line here! They go or I go!"
A decision is made by the network, and the actors head into a live episode in which they will read their lines from a teleprompter to keep secret until the last minute who will be written off. It is revealed that Lori's character has "brain fever" and will die; still hoping to be rid of Celeste, Montana ad-libs and suggests that a brain transplant can save her. Lori is shocked by the revelation, but in character, Celeste immediately plays along, offering her own brain for the operation. Touched by the sacrifice, Lori asks Celeste and Jeffrey not to leave the show, and softens to her newfound parents. Montana, desperate to stop them, reiterates that she is pregnant with Jeffrey's child, but she is publicly ruined by Rose who, with the help of vengeful Ariel Maloney, who had become fond of Jeffrey, reveals the secret from a high school yearbook that Montana was once a man named Milton Moorehead. David is shocked and Montana flees the set, screaming in horror. Later, Celeste, Jeffrey, and Lori win soap opera awards as Milton performs dinner theater at Jeffrey's former venue.
Sally Field as Celeste Talbert / "Maggie",
Kevin Kline as Jeffrey Anderson / "Dr. Rod Randall",
Robert Downey, Jr. as David Seton Barnes,
Cathy Moriarty as Montana Moorehead / "Nurse Nan",
Elisabeth Shue as Lori Craven / "Angelique",
Whoopi Goldberg as Rose Schwartz,
Carrie Fisher as Betsy Faye Sharon,
Garry Marshall as Edmund Edwards,
Teri Hatcher as Ariel Maloney / "Dr. Monica Demonico",
Kathy Najimy as Tawny Miller,
Paul Johansson as Blair Brennan / "Bolt",
Sheila Kelley as Fran,
It received mixed reviews and has a 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Rita Kempley, writing for The Washington Post, called it "pure joy, a lemon-fresh spoof of daytime drama that does the dishing and may even soften your hands. An uproarious look behind the scenes of a fictional soap opera, it soaks the conventions of the genre with unfailing zest to leave a shine so bright you can see your face in it - art mirroring life and all that."Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars and called it "the kind of movie that is a balancing act, really."
Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman gave it a letter grade of C- and said that it "makes the tackiness of soap operas seem far more desperate than funny."
American Film Institute recognition:
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs - Nominated,
It was announced that Soapdish will be adapted into a musical, a reading for which will take place in late October 2012. Harling will adapt his screenplay for the book, with music by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. The reading will be directed by Rob Ashford with actors Kristin Chenoweth, John Stamos, Jane Krakowski, Cristin Milioti, Anne L. Nathan, Michael Park, Miriam Shor and Daniel Torres in the cast.