Streepathon Stop #8: Death Becomes Her
"Wrinked, wrinked little star... hope they never see the scars."
Time: 1992 (19th film)
Role: Madeline Ashton, endlessly vain and endlessly "undead" actress
Awards: GG (comedy) and Saturn Award nominations
Fun Fact #1: Meryl once said in an interview that she'd originally assumed Goldie Hawn's role was meant for her, not the singing, dancing, vampy part of Madeleine.
Fun Fact #2: Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn were looking for a movie to do together in the early '90s, and at once point were interested in Thelma & Louise, but ultimately chose Death Becomes Her instead. Thelma & Louise, of course, was eventually cast with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.
Fun Fact #3: For the scene where Meryl takes Lisle's anti-aging potion and her breasts are lifted and firmed, the filmmakers had originally intended to use a pneumatic bra. But when the effect didn't look realistic enough, they scrapped the bra idea and instead had Meryl's dresser actually stand behind her out of view and pull her breasts into position.
Choice Clips: Here's Meryl Streep's "Me" song, sung and danced over the opening credits. Most of you've probably seen it already, but it's worth seeing again. Meryl's sounding a lot like Barbra Streisand in this clip. And can you recognize Bruce Willis in his reaction shot? I couldn't for a long time. Goldie's also hard to spot, looking very Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich. Creepy:
And here's Meryl experiencing the anti-aging effects of Lisle's potion:
And now here are Meryl and Goldie, in their cat fight extraordinaire:
Film Review: Such fun! I'd previously heard this film described as "comic gold" and that's totally true. Like Streep's recent Devil Wears Prada, this is a terrific comedy with everyone firing on all cylinders. The writing, acting, directing, music, and design are all doing their part. The comedy is highly stylized but always rooted in truth, the characterizations are broad but specific, the visual style is striking and elegant, the music is tense and moody, the flashy surface deepened by serious themes. Everything just clicks. It's great entertainment.
One thing that struck me about Death Becomes Her is how much it has in common with She-Devil, despite being superior in every way. They've got the same basic setup: Two women - one frumpy, one fabulous - fight over a man. The fabulous one is still played by Meryl Streep. She's still rich and famous, still beautiful and shallow, still makes references to "paying extra" for special favors, still breaks up a relationship and marries the guy.
But this time instead of the lazy Roseanne and annoying Ed Begley Jr., Streep gets to share the screen with a dowdy Goldie Hawn and a near-unrecognizable Bruce Willis, as well as an unnaturally young Isabella Rossellini. LOVE the switch. And unlike in She-Devil, where Streep outshined everyone else by far, the whole cast of this film is ace. I guess I'd still say Streep was best-in-show if forced to choose, but everyone else is totally on her level; this is a knockout ensemble. Their material is deliciously dark and satirical, and they mine it for all it's worth. Lots of fun.
The story concerns two friends and girlhoold rivals, actress Madeline Ashton and writer Helen Sharp. Madeline (Streep) impresses Helen's fiancé, Dr. Ernest Menville (Willis) with her beauty and talent, and takes a liking to him due to his being a plastic surgeon. Ernest soon marries Madeline, leaving Helen (Hawn) bitter and alone. Eventually, however, the love falls out of Ernest and Madeline's marriage, and Helen returns determined to win back her man. And before long, both women have drunk from a magic potion given to them by the mysterious, erotic Lisle (Rossellini), a youth serum that causes them to live forever. But things get a bit sticky when they die.
This is a wonderful dark comedy and satire of our culture's obsession with youth. It doesn't have the best reputation, but I highly recommend it. I love that it's an oscar winner, if only for its visual effects. They, like the rest of the film, were quite impressive.
Streep Review: Meryl's much better here than in She-Devil (and she was good in She-Devil, too). This characterization is much more clear and crisp, seeming more like a real person and less like a broad "type." Much of that is the script's fault, but Meryl knows exactly what to do with good words. Plus, to borrow a certain chic oscar campaign phrase: "She sings, she dances, she dies!" (sort of) In short, this performance is a LOT of fun.
What I love, though, is that Meryl doesn't really stand out; everyone is great in this film. Goldie matches Meryl blow for blow, and Bruce Willis is surprisingly great. And Isabella Rossellini is PERFECT as the immortal Lisle, hella-sexy and a total riot. You know a cast is great when they can all keep up with Meryl. Totally awesome.
But that doesn't take away from Meryl's individual achievement. This is one of her best comedic performances; in it's own zany, ensemble-serving way, I'd say it's up there with her oscar-nominated turns in Postcards, Adaptation, and Prada. It's great to see Meryl embrace her inner ice queen. Especially when her body is literally icy (due to death). Don't miss this one. Go out and rent it now. You're in for a treat.