Film: Death Becomes Her

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Film:

Death Becomes Her

Director: Robert Zemeckis
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Distributor: Universal Studios

If Robert Zemeckis’s mega-hit Forrest Gump was too sweet for your taste, you may enjoy the undiluted bitterness of his previous movie, a cynical black comedy that was ahead of its time. Death Becomes Her, an outlandish parable about America’s obsession with youth and vanity, exposes the corrosive side of Zemeckis’s comic sensibility, the sort of scathing satirical edge he gleefully flourished in his overlooked 1980 Used Cars, which has developed a cult following. Meryl Streep has a ball as the deliciously vicious Madeline Ashton, a…

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If Robert Zemeckis’s mega-hit Forrest Gump was too sweet for your taste, you may enjoy the undiluted bitterness of his previous movie, a cynical black comedy that was ahead of its time. Death Becomes Her, an outlandish parable about America’s obsession with youth and vanity, exposes the corrosive side of Zemeckis’s comic sensibility, the sort of scathing satirical edge he gleefully flourished in his overlooked 1980 Used Cars, which has developed a cult following. Meryl Streep has a ball as the deliciously vicious Madeline Ashton, a flamboyantly mannered actress who makes Bette Davis’s formidable Margo Channing in All About Eve look like a wallflower. Goldie Hawn is also in razor-sharp comedic form as Madeline’s long-time “best friend,” Helen. Sensing a bargain she just can’t resist, Madeline steals Helen’s meek, plastic-surgeon husband Ernest (Bruce Willis) for her own convenience, and the two women become sworn enemies. But the real complications arise when the two are introduced to a secret anti-aging formula by a mysterious and exotic woman (Isabella Rossellini, delightfully ridiculous) that not only smoothes away wrinkles but actually guarantees immortality. As their undying bodies are twisted and mutilated by violent attacks on each other, both women grow increasingly dependent on Ernest for cosmetic repair. The pioneering digital effects inflicted on Streep and Hawn are as grotesque as they are imaginative and hilarious. Like James Cameron (The Abyss, Titanic), Zemeckis loves a technical challenge, and the new visual tools developed for this movie made his later work (in Forrest Gump and Contact) possible. The digital video disc includes a short feature on the movie’s production. —Jim Emerson

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