Death Becomes Her (1992)
In the summer of 1992, I turned 13. You don’t need me to tell you that 13 was a weird age, and I was a bit of a weird kid. That being said, I was probably way too young to love Death Becomes Her as much as I did (and still do).
The story: “Wrinkle wrinkle, little star… hope they never see the scar…” Hollywood’s obsession with youth, beauty and fame - and the lengths that people will go through to chase that ever escaping dragon is the core of Death Becomes Her. Helen Sharp and Madeline Ashton are friends from way back, and where Helen is mousey and quiet, Madeline is vibrant, exciting and glamorous. As the two have always tussled in affairs of the heart, Helen’s fiancé, brilliant Hollywood plastic surgeon Ernest Menville, is the newest fly to fall into Madeline Ashton’s web.
|This is how you spell fabulous.|
|I've said this to an ex. He didn't get the reference. |
But I was serious.
Love triangles are the worst – boring, trite, catty and usually eyeroll inducing. but what makes this one special is the fact that far from taking itself seriously, Death Becomes Her is high camp delivered with some of the most hilarious over acting I’ve ever seen. Goldie Hawn is dark, devious and sexy, and Meryl Streep doesn’t get enough credit for her comedic timing, or the sheer relish that she plays this darkly comedic role. Bruce Willis is a hysterical version of himself – shrieking and gesturing and eye rolling his way through each scene with an enthusiasm and zest for the craft that he seems to have lost somewhere around the early 2000s. He's as pathetic and pitiable as the women are grasping and domineering.
Rivalry, bitterness, self-loathing, and revenge play huge roles throughout the film and during a pivotal fight scene, the realization dawns that there was never any true need for any animosity, and sometimes all you need is a good shovel duel in the middle of a mansion to just get all the cards on the table and truly understand each other.
Sidenote: I would drink anything Isabella Rosselini gave me. No questions asked.
Even though the moral of the story is one that preaches the embracing of self and the pursuit of the meaning of *true* immortality, it's delivered in such a tongue in cheek way as to prolong the dark comedy of the film even further. An endlessly quotable film, Death Becomes Her doesn't get nearly the amount of attention that it deserves. A merciless (and obvious) jab at the Hollywood obsession with youth and beauty and the relentless pursuit of something so intangible and fleeting is easy prey for parodies. But where other films have taken the same direction and presented themselves too seriously and failed, Death Becomes Her embraces the high camp that comes with a theme like this, and the overdramatic performances are more of a throwback to the high drama of the early Hollywood era than anything.
|Double barrel eye roll.|
I would be remiss not to mention the not-so-subtle nod to the conspiracy theories about the deaths and disappearances of some of the greatest talents in Hollywood. "You can continue your career for ten years... ten years of unchanged beauty." James Dean, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, and Greta Garbo are referenced, or encountered during the course of the film, all of them members of the elite group of people who have experienced the thrill of Lisl's "touch of magic."
Death Becomes Her is one of my favorite dark comedies - equal parts relationship drama, sisterhood awakening, cautionary tale, supernatural shocker, scream laugh comedy, and dark exploration of our shallower selves.
The verdict: 5 cans of spray paint out of 5.
If you haven't seen it, rectify that immediately.
You can find Death Becomes Her on Blu Ray, DVD, or just come over and watch my VHS copy.