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Monday, 8 January 2018

Retro Review: Death Becomes Her (1992)

Death Becomes Her
Cast: Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Isabella Rossellini 
Genre: Black Comedy Fantasy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $149 million

Plot: When a woman learns of her immortality treatment, she sees it as her way of outdoing her rival 

'Age Ain't Nothing But A Youth Potion'

An underrated Robert Zemeckis movie, with an overlooked Meryl Streep performance and where one gets to see an overweight Goldie Hawn in make-up. As well as an impressive Bruce Willis turn where for once he doesn't get to blow things and people up. Surprisingly back in 1992, it bombed on release and since then, this dark comedy on retaining one's youthful looks, vanity and obsession with physical appearance, has become a cult classic for a lot of people. In rewatching it from an adult point of view, Death Becomes Her is actually well-written, is somewhat clever and far more twisted and cynical & in a G/PG-rated fashion than one should give it credit for. 

Madeline and Helen are two rival actresses, with Madeline stealing Ernest's heart & Helen resorting to the youth potion to win him back and the two end up fighting it out. Madeline also discovers the secrets and benefits of eternal youth, living forever and staying young & beautiful.  

As much as she admitted that she hated the filming process of Death Becomes Her, Meryl Streep immerses herself in and let's loose her light-hearted and comedic side as Madeline Ashton and though she is known for being a dramatic actress, here, she also shows that she has the chops for comedy in one of those rare performances one doesn't tend to associate Streep with. Bruce Willis, meanwhile, subverts and trades in his macho action hero archetype role - and one that he has been playing for a long time- for a bumbling, awkward geek in sensitive, softly-spoken Ernest, who is caught in the crossfire between two so-called ego-driven women, who are both vying for his affections, as well as the secret youth potion. Goldie Hawn rounds up the trio as Madeline's bitter ex-friend, Helen. At this point, with Housesitter, Hawn's career was at its peak & her cagey turn here helped solidified it and her status as an A-lister. 

There is a much bigger focus on the comedy than the horror and supernatural elements and it works well and the delivery of it by the main performers is spot-on. The CGI effects of Industrial Light & Magic still impresses and holds up to this day. Death Becomes Her is a Black comedy and is also a prime example of a comedy that takes elements from horror and fantasy and carves out a film of its very own. The violence, as the over-the-top, as it is, is bloodless and not gory, to be honest, and is more in the vein of a Looney Tunes cartoon. 

I was a little surprised to read a comment from one reviewer who labelled this film as 'cruel' and just like The War of the Roses, the dark tone overrides the comedy - this is something that I refute and disagree with. I mean, it may be malicious but it's not what I'd call mean-spirited. As I sat through this film, not once did I feel this way towards it. 

Zemeckis is a director, who in contrast to many others, tells stories through creative and technological ways, but without having to sacrifice the quality of the storytelling and the characters, along the way. With Death Becomes Her, it has that cult and niche appeal that it has built up over time. Though dark comedies don't tend to find a way with general audiences, this one pretty much did that, for a brief while. & thanks to the leads and Zemeckis, they made this all the more possible. 

Final Verdict:

In reassessment of Robert Zemeckis's filmography, I could say that Death Becomes Her is a '90s dark comedy that didn't get its due back in 1992, but in today, it deserves to be praised as one of the director's most refreshing and daring takes and a film that doesn't fall into the typical Zemeckis category of sci-fi fantasy. And still, in other aspects such as characterisation, story, special effects and themes about ageism, outer beauty and growing old gracefully, Death Becomes Her touches and emphasises on these points, very well.  

It is a Zemeckis movie that gets slept on a great deal and for once, he didn't rely on Boombastic flash and bang that was seen in Back to the Future, but on dark comedy and the performances by Streep, Hawn and Willis who are all at their A-game here. 

And for that, much like with Hawn and Streep themselves, Death Becomes Her is a 1992 gem of an offering that has much improved with age. 


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