You guys might not know but black comedies and I don’t mix very well. No matter the skill involved they nearly always seem more mean-spirited and ugly than funny. The worst movie I’ve ever seen is a black comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous- one of 2 films I have walked out of in my life (on a date no less!). So it is perhaps this reason that kept me away from the 1992 cult classic Death Becomes Her. However, this week it was selected by Nathaniel over at Film Experience as the Hit Me With Your Best Shot pick, and I decided to give it a shot.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Death Becomes Her is a ghost story combined with a critique on Hollywood, celebrity and female body obsession. It stars Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn with Isabella Rossellini adding revealing supporting work.
Meryl Streep is Madeline Ashton, an actress who is obsessed with her image and fading career. Goldie Hawn is Helen Sharp, her wantabe writer rival who is engaged to Bruce Willis’ Ernest Menviille, a plastic surgeon. All of these 3 actors are hamming it up big time from the beginning and there are a lot of good diva lines for Hawn and Streep.
Streep seems to be having a particularly good time playing someone so deliciously narcissistic and vapid. You almost have the feeling she’s known many such women that she is basing the character off of. Madeline ends up stealing Ernest from Helen and the two women play cat and mouse with each other until spoiler alert they both die but only after having drunk an elixir of youth given to them by Rossellini.
It is after the death where we get the body-bending special effects that won an Oscar for the film in 1992. These effects do look a little dated but honestly that is part of its charm- sort of like watching an old movie from the 30s with hokey special effects.
I’m trying to put a finger on why this black comedy worked for me and films like Drop Dead Gorgeous don’t. It could just be Meryl Streep is that good and it could be some genuinely funny writing by Martin Donovan and David Koepp. I’m not sure. Humor is an odd thing in that regard. Sometimes you can’t explain why certain things make you laugh and others don’t.
It’s funny because of all the useless remakes we have gotten over the years (I’m talking to you Ghostbusters and Ben Hur…) Death Becomes Her is screaming for a remake. I kept thinking of all the stuff you could do with reality tv and our image conscious society now that you didn’t have back in 1992. There is so much more the script could poke fun at and of course the special effects could be improved upon.
I should mention that Bruce Willis is very funny in a non-John McClane role we rarely see. He’s been such a lazy actor of late that it was fun to see him trying.
With all the nonsense, the film does have something to say about life and what really makes someone last forever, and I thought that was nice. But when I am picking a best shot I went with the scene that made me laugh the hardest. Ernest has supposedly taken the eternal serum and Streep’s Madeline looks at him and says ‘My God he still looks like Hell…’ That made me laugh so that’s my shot.