A hallmark of contemporary trash comedies is the dumb flashback. In the middle of a reasonably normal conversation, a character reveals some formative incident from their past. The art of such sequences is in not only going to the high point of outrageousness – usually accompanied by syrupy, sentimental music and a tragic voice-over narration – but also managing to pick some storytelling genre so outdated it is quaintly charming.
In Evil Woman – a rather puzzling replacement title for the Australian release of Saving Silverman – Sandy (Amanda Detmer) tells a wonderful story about why she has given up on love. This tragic tale begins with aerial acrobats in a circus (possibly a parody of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire ) and ends, about two minutes later, with Sandy's determination to become a nun.
The flashbacks, which just keep on coming, are the best thing in this film. But the central plot also has an intriguing premise. Two mates, Wayne (Steve Zahn) and JD (Jack Black) are all shook up when their comrade in grotty, male dagdom, Darren (Jason Biggs), starts going steady with a girl.
But Judith (Amanda Peet) is no ordinary girl – she is an evil woman because she is a psychiatrist, a snob and worst of all a control freak. Darren finds himself dominated, down to the most intimate aspects of his lifestyle, by Judith's tastes and edicts. As is often the case, trash cinema here raises, with invigorating unsubtlety, a topic kept taboo in supposedly sophisticated relationship dramas.
Most of the story, in an echo of the Bette Midler-Danny DeVito vehicle Ruthless People (1986), involves Wayne and JD's clumsy attempt to kidnap and coerce the hard-as-nails Judith. As their victim is adept not only in psychological manipulation but also martial arts, the lads are in for a great deal of punishment.
As trash comedies go, this is fairly mild, with the sweet, innocent romance between Darren and Sandy evening out the grossness. The obligatory repertoire of gags about boners, breasts and bongs reaches only one sublime highpoint, involving the "butt implant" which the accommodating Darren undergoes for Judith's sake. And the nervous flirtation with gay themes that underwrites so many films in this mode is here made disarmingly explicit.
Evil Woman is, finally, not much of a movie, but it is undeniably enjoyable. The most pleasant surprise of all is how well the incessant Neil Diamond jokes work – from the guys' tribute band and their private memorabilia museum, to a spirited cameo from the master himself and a final, stadium concert that manages to give every single character some decent closure.
© Adrian Martin December 2001