As Cameron Diaz Announces Her Retirement, Her Contributions to Women in Comedy Can’t Be Overstated

What made Diaz exceptional as a comedic lead was her generosity as a performer, not just to the material but to her fellow actors, especially when those other performers were other women.
No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Suzanne Tenner/Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5878466f)Cameron Diaz, Selma Blair, Christina ApplegateThe Sweetest Thing - 2002Director: Roger KumbleColumbiaUSAScene StillComedyAllumeuses !
"The Sweetest Thing"
Suzanne Tenner/Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

Consider it official: Cameron Diaz is, in her own words, “actually retired.” The actress’ “Sweetest Thing” co-star Selma Blair made waves earlier this month when she tweeted that her pal had retired from the acting business, a note she later retracted, only for it to be confirmed by Diaz when the actresses (alongside fellow “Sweetest Thing” star Christina Applegate) reunited to chat about their raunchy 2002 feature. Diaz out.

Asked by Entertainment Weekly if the trio has reunited since filming the feature, the actresses were honest: No, but maybe they should. It also gave Diaz the chance to set the record straight on her retirement status, as she chimed in after Applegate joked that she was “semi-retired,” saying, “I’m totally down. I’m semi-retired, too, and I am actually retired, so I would love to see you ladies.” (And no, Diaz didn’t say she was “totally down” to film some kind of reunion with the ladies, perhaps even a “Sweetest Thing” sequel, though it doesn’t hurt to dream.)

Diaz had plenty of time to shine in two decades on the big screen, but it’s her comedic contributions that deserve the most attention. What made Diaz exceptional was her generosity as a performer — not just to the material, but to her fellow actors, especially when they were other women. Diaz’s two best-known roles, comedic or otherwise, will always be “The Mask” (her first movie, somehow) and “There’s Something About Mary,” but her resume is filled with other features that showed off her desire to not just be funny, but to be funny alongside other funny women. (Although nothing will ever top her work in “Mary” — the pinnacle of on-screen giving, all for a great joke.)

Diaz was no stranger to big-budget, low-IQ studio comedies, including the double-barreled misfires of “Bad Teacher” and “Sex Tape.” She even did her time in one of those awful movies inspired by a self-help book (“What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which arrived in theaters at the tail end of a terrible trend). Her resume is also peppered with massive blockbusters (the “Shrek” franchise alone has made over a billion dollars at the box office) and the odd drama (she’s the low-key MVP of Nick Cassavetes’ heartbreaker “My Sister’s Keeper”).

Moreover, Diaz always seemed interested in working with auteurs of all stripes (Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” Richard Kelly’s “The Box,” Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky,” and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” — and the bizarre misfire of Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor”). No, her turn in “Gangs of New York” wasn’t good, but in a career marked by underappreciated versatility, it’s still a role that stands as the greatest signifier that Diaz really wanted to do different things, and not just say she did.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Glenn Watson/20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5883143q) Cameron Diaz There's Something About Mary - 1998 Director: Peter Farrelly / Bobby Farrelly 20th Century Fox USA Scene Still Comedy Mary à tout prix
“There’s Something About Mary”Glenn Watson/20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

It’s both appropriate and heartbreaking that the attention now paid to Diaz’s career comes with the econsideration of her 2002 comedy “The Sweetest Thing,” which features not just one of Diaz’s best performances, but also displays her ability to bolster the comedic skills of the women around her, including Blair and Applegate (who are also career-best in the raunchy comedy). The dirty twist on the rom-com formula is an early-aughts predecessor to “Bridesmaids” and “Girls Trip” (and, when it opens next week, audiences will find plenty of the film’s DNA in Kay Cannon’s “Blockers”), a heartwarming film with a key subplot that hinges on a (very vivid) bathroom-stall glory hole.

“The Sweetest Thing” is about as out-there as a studio comedy can get. (The IMDb parents’ guide for the film is a real corker.) Its tagline — “A romantic comedy without the sugar” — is on point, but that’s not to say it’s a film without sweetness. Although its storyline concerns Diaz’s character, Christina, attempting to reunite with the guy of her dreams (Thomas Jane), the real heart is Christina’s relationship with best pals Courtney (Applegate) and Jane (Blair). Each of them endures different sorts of romantic indignities, but they rally around Christina in hopes of making her dreams come true. Like the film itself, the trio of talents is better than the sum of their parts.

Diaz also brought girl-powered comedic drive to the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise with Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. The two action-comedy films were hits (and are soon to be rebooted) and made a contemporary case for the viability of female-led features that work because they have so many different women in them.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Darren Michaels/Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885922an) Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore Charlie's Angels - Full Throttle - 2003 Director: McG Columbia USA Scene Still Action/Comedy Charlie's angels - les anges se déchaînent
“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”Darren Michaels/Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

With the first “Charlie’s Angels” in 2000, Diaz was the first-billed star (then Barrymore, then Liu), and while she (much like in “The Sweetest Thing”) is the ostensible lead, there is always space for the other actresses to excel. The Angels are united in their love of crime-fighting, justice, and working for a weird guy they never meet, but their friendship is what helps them succeed in their ass-kicking endeavors. (Diaz and Barrymore are still best friends.)

Later in her career, Diaz turned her attentions to the rom-com requisite of a Nancy Meyers movie. While Meyers’ “The Holiday” was a two-hander that took place on two coasts, with Diaz and Kate Winslet playing strangers who house-swap in London and Los Angeles, the pair bonds over instant message and a very weird series of phone calls, creating a unique kind of (literally telegraphed) physical comedy that in some ways echoes a good “I Love Lucy” bit.

The film, of course, has a happy ending, but what might be most moving isn’t that Diaz’s Amanda has snagged a great new dude (Jude Law, as Winslet’s brother) just in time to ring in the New Year alongside Winslet’s Iris and her new beau (Amanda’s own friend, played by Jack Black), but that they all do it together. “The Holiday” concludes with the four of them around a Christmas tree, with a new friendship blossoming between Amanda and Iris. It’s a friendship comedy crammed inside a rom-com, like the most festive of turduckens (where is that spinoff?).

Even outliers like 2014’s “The Other Woman” (essentially a reboot of “John Tucker Must Die,” moved from high school to Manhattan) gave Diaz the chance to yuk it up alongside other talented women, including Leslie Mann and Kate Upton. The trio star as very different women who discover they’re all in love with the same man, and set out to make his life a living hell. But despite that seemingly retrograde concept, the Cassavetes film comes with a twist: The best part of their revenge is bonding with each other. Wacky hijinks aside, the film finds its footing by focusing on their friendship and how it changes them in surprising ways.

It doesn’t hurt that Diaz and Mann display a canny comedic chemistry (that we never got to see them star in a real buddy comedy is a cruel side effect of Diaz’s retirement). Their best moments see the pair playing off each other, bolstered by unexpected physical humor.

Who could have seen that coming? Turns out, anyone who observed Diaz’s girl-powered career.

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