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Soap Dish 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, 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.) She's also depressed because her live-in-boyfriend decided to leave her to go back to his wife in Pittsburgh.
Her best friend Rose, the head writer of the series, played by Whoopi Goldberg, knows how to bring her out of her funk, by pushing the right buttons. Her most successful method of bringing Celeste out of her misery is to visit a shopping mall in Paramus, New Jersey, and have her "discovered" by the crowd of women shoppers that loves her and the show.
Meanwhile, the assistant producer, David, (Robert Downey, Jr.) wants to bed the second banana on the show, Montana Moorhead, who won't let him have sex with her unless Celeste is off the show (so she can become the star). So he creates a new story line where a homeless mute attacks Celeste with a knife, so that Celeste will have to kill her, causing there to be a trial, make the audience hate Celeste, etc. During this new story line, a very aggressive starlet uses every trick she can think of to get on the show, and through an accidental viewing of rushes, the assistant producer picks the starlet to be the homeless mute who stabs Celeste. When Celeste sees the starlet, she recognizes her as her niece, Laurie.
This begins a whole new life for Celeste, who has her niece move in to her palatial apartment. Seeing as how the homeless mute gambit didn't work, David decides to find a former castmember, Jeffrey (Kevin Kline), whom they'd fired 20 years ago because Celeste didn't like him. He's doing dinner theater in Florida, and David offers him some enticements to come back. This doesn't go well with Rose, because his character is being Back From the Dead after being Killed Off for Real. "I went back to the archives and re-read the old scripts to be sure. He was decapitated in a car accident! He has no head! How do I write dialog for an actor without a head?" David announces several handwaves to solve the problem, a successful head reattachment surgery, or other tricks.
Now Celeste is not pleased that Jeffrey is back. Also, Laurie is rather attracted to Jeffrey, which bothers Celeste terribly. Celeste even goes so far as to sneak into Jeffrey's apartment building to try and see into his apartment when she discovers he took Laurie out on a date, but he decided not to take advantage of Laurie's interest in him, and has her leave early. Discovering Celeste hanging on his drainpipe, believing her to be jealous, he decides to needle her, calling out (to the empty apartment), "Laurie! Put your clothes on, your aunt is here."
David notices the tension, and decides to up the ante by having Jeffrey and Laurie do an on-screen kiss. Celeste breaks the scene, riding Jeffrey piggy-back to stop him, and does a major reveal:
Celeste: You can't kiss her! You can never kiss her!
Turns out Celeste and Jeffrey had been lovers 20-years back, and Celeste got pregnant, only the whole thing was covered up, and Laurie was sent to live with Celeste's mother, while Laurie was told her mother and father were dead, and was Celeste's niece rather than her daughter.
Hilarity Ensues as the cast and crew backstab each other.
Contains examples of:
- Absolute Cleavage: Oh, God, Teri Hatcher as Ariel aka Dr. Monica.
Jeffrey: You have beautiful eyes.
- Ambiguously Gay: David, who admits he usually prefers slim, boyish 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.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Jeffrey knows Celeste too well.
Jeffrey: What's your hurry anyway? Gotta get to the mall?
- Back From the Dead: Jeffrey. His character was decapitated. This Fridge Logic is not lost on Rose.
- Big No: Celeste when Laurie and Jeffrey are about to kiss on set.
- Montana when it's revealed she used to be Milton.
- Brain Fever
- Costume Porn: Fancy outfits are worn both on and off the show.
- Dinner Theatre: in the opening, Kevin Kline's washed-up character is performing Death of a Salesman at a Dinner Theatre. It's something he later describes as hell.
- Foreshadowing: Clues to Montana's identity are sprinkled throughout the film. For example, her dressing room is full of gay iconography, like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
- Fallen-On-Hard-Times Job: Kevin Kline's dinner theater gig.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Ben Stein has two lines as a network exec.
- I Am Not Spock: "The name is Anderson! ANDERSON!"
- Killed Off for Real: Jeffrey was killed in a grisly fashion 20-years earlier.
- Laurie, I Am Your Mother: And Jeffery is her father.
- Magic Plastic Surgery
- My Breasts Are Down Here: And Ariel knows it.
- Parodied Trope: So many soap opera tropes are spoofed here.
- Precision F-Strike: Sally Field, considered the poster child for a sweetness and light character, shocks the audience when she complains about a wardrobe that makes he look old. "This outfit makes me look like Gloria Fucking Swanson!"
- Call Back: Like mother, like daughter - Laurie complains that her hat makes her "look like a Goddamn Tweety Bird!"
- Real Life Writes the Plot: In-universe. All of the arguing between Celeste and Jeffrey over Laurie become inexplicably intertwined with the The Sun Also Sets plot.
Rose: Why can't I write shit like this?!
- Rule of Three: Played with when Celeste, Laurie, and Jeffrey complain to the network about their situation.
- Shout-Out: The plot twist above is a reference to what happened with Jack Nicholson.
- Shoot the Money: In-Universe spoof. The ocean backdrop cost a million dollars to make, so it's used in almost every part of the show.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Mr. Fuzzy".
- The Vamp: Montana, oh so much.