Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) is one of the most beloved soap opera actresses in the land, known for decades as America's Sweetheart, so it's little wonder she has won the best leading actress gong at the Annual Daytime Television Awards for the umpteenth time. Not everyone is happy with this turn of events, however, as her co-stars Montana (Cathy Moriarty) and Ariel (Teri Hatcher) are plotting her downfall from what they see as too long at the top - they demand the head writer, David Seton Barnes (Robert Downey Jr), have them replace her in the fame stakes...
Soapdish didn't exactly get a huge welcome when it was first released, but has gone on to survive past those early claims that it was merely a second rate rip-off of Tootsie to win a cult following. Its central conceit was that it was a tale of the behind the scenes turmoil at a daytime soap that matched, if not overtook, the stuff that was going on in front of the camera, which was sort of like the Dustin Hoffman hit, it was true, but here they were far more dedicated to sending up the medium. The cast were up for a laugh at the expense of the lesser wattage stars who showed up on such things, but there was an affection to the gags too.
As if these celebrities were observing "There but by the grace of God go I" and thanking their lucky stars that their career saw them appearing in fairly big Hollywood movies instead of struggling to get to the forefront of a less artistically demanding occupation. Still, there was a sense of hubris about the way everyone here was taking the mickey out of the lower orders of stardom, and there can't have been nobody in that business who felt a small sense of satisfaction when this flopped. Field, Kline, and the rest had their faith in this justified nevertheless, because Soapdish became popular on television showings (perhaps ironically) and video.
Not the greatest thing ever, but at least there are a fair few who can honestly say the goings-on here made them laugh. If anyone seemed amused it was the makers of this film, of course, because what was actually being parodied more often than not here was the pretensions of actors and actresses who have a tunnel vision that they can only see their self-expression as the be all and end all of their existences. Celeste is on the permanent verge of a breakdown as she clings to her status, which is in no apparent danger of deserting her, yet that does not salve her insecurity, and her ex-lover and ex-co-star Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline) would be a more apt candidate for that kind of behaviour anyway.
That's because he was sacked due to Celeste's motivations that are not clear at the outset, and now is getting by in Florida dinner theatre for the benefit of old folks who can't hear him over the munching of their meals. As we join him he is fighting a losing battle with Death of a Salesman, but what he dreams of is the chance to offer the world his one-man Hamlet (!), so when Montana decides the best way to derail Celeste would be to bring Jeffrey back on the show, he jumps at the chance. To complicate matters, and this does get complicated without actually getting complex if you see what I mean, Celeste's niece Lori (Elisabeth Shue) has arrived in town and wishes to follow in her aunt's footsteps, wangling her way onto the set and a job there. There are enough funny and bitchy lines to satisfy, in a film that unlike Tootsie was more of a women's picture and did not resort to groaning attempts at tearjerking as many in that style were resorting to at this point. It knows it's ridiculous. Music by Alan Silvestri.