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Special effects star in hilarious Death Becomes Her

Death Becomes Her

"Your basic black comedy." If there is one film that I think got screwed over by critics and audiences alike, Death Becomes Her would be it. One of the best dark comedies I have seen, this film never disappoints throughout its entire run. While reading reviews of the film, I can't believe how underrated it is. It's sad really. A film like this really deserves a bigger audience than it got. It's great for all ages, although little children might be frightened, and the nudity is plentiful to fill in for the PG-13 rating. However, teenagers are sure to enjoy the special effects and the nudity, and the adults will enjoy the special effects and the bickering of the two stars.

In reading other reviews, I have come to the conclusion that most critics would like morals and themes in comedies. And Death Becomes Her has one! Unfortunately, I think those other critics missed the theme. "Beauty is only skin deep" is probably the main theme of the film. And the portrayal is very subtle and almost misleading. Some might even consider that the theme was forgotten after the first five minutes. Not true, as the theme plays all the way out to the end of the film. Still, Death Becomes Her is not a film which requires a lot of thought, and I am thankful because it allowed more visual gags and funny lines than a thought-provoking film would have. I am saddened when people want to go to a film and have to have it move them in some way, whether it be spiritual or emotional. Can't you go to a film to be entertained? Even we critics have sunk to the level of criticizing every minute bit of detail in every film, to the point of not appreciating a film for being fun to watch.

Now that I have gotten that editorial out of my system (which was directed more towards critics than anyone else), I will discuss this film. Robert Zemeckis has proven himself a very competent and imaginative director. His Back to the Future series is a great trilogy, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was an incredible piece of filmmaking. Some would even say that Death Becomes Her was his only bad film. In my opinion, Forrest Gump deserves that honor. Zemeckis has a directing style that makes you want to watch the film, and he usually never substitutes story for effects. Death Becomes Her is the exception, and yet it works. His direction is wonderful and easy to follow. The camera movements and angles are fun to watch, and his actors almost always seem full of energy. But the special effects are what make this film, and Zemeckis has a very imaginative mind for using them.

Death Becomes Her opens with a song-and-dance number starring Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep). This sequence is well choreographed and fun to watch. It resembles the film in a way. Dr. Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis),a plastic surgeon, is a big fan of Ashton's, something his fiancee doesn't approve of. Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) is a friend of Ashton, but she has a grudge boiling inside her. Whenever she gets a boyfriend, Ashton decides to steal him away. And when she discovers that her new love is a fan of Ashton's, she decides to put him to the test: will he leave her for Ashton, or will he stay? Unfortunately, because of his career, Ashton takes a liking to Menville, leading to them getting married. Sharp isn't able to take anymore of this, and she gains hundreds of pounds over the next seven years. During treatments at a mental institution, Helen decides to set her life straight.

The next seven years pass, and we catch a glimpse of Ashton and her husband, who now has a drinking problem and works as an undertaker. They live in a huge mansion, but neither sleep together anymore. One day, they receive tickets to a book party for one Helen Sharp. Madeline wants to look her best to impress her old friend, but when she arrives, she discovers that the 50 year old Sharp looks about 25. She has regained a waist and looks gorgeous. This sparks Madeline's jealousy of Helen, and she wants to get more plastic surgery done. By advice of the plastic surgeon, Madeline visits a mysterious guru who is able to help her predicament. Lisle Von Rhoman (Isabella Rossellini) looks stunning, and she wears very little because she knows she looks good. She gives Madeline a potion which looks magical, and it is, because it reverses the aging process and stops it dead in its tracks. She drinks it and becomes as young and beautiful as she once thought she was.

Unfortunately, at the same time, Helen Sharp and Ernest Menville are planning to kill Madeline. The rest of the film is an ingenuine use of special effects and creative death scenes. I mean, if you could live forever, wouldn't it be fun to just kill yourself for fun? The true star of Death Becomes Her is these special effects which still are amazing today. They won the Academy Award back in 1992, and they deserved it. The twisted neck is amazing, but it is the hole in the stomach that gets the most jaw-dropping reactions. The effect is flawless and never once could you guess how they did it. Of course, these unusual deaths are hilariously portrayed, so it isn't as sadistic as it may sound. The shovel fight between Madeline and Helen (both dead now) is the best scene in the film, and one to be remembered for a long time to come.

However, despite the fantastic effects, the performances are able to compete with them. Meryl Streep gives a fantastic performance in a role I never thought she could handle. She gives the funniest performance in the film, and her reactions are worth the price to see the film. Streep is a very versatile actress, and now she shows that she can handle a comedic role as well. Unfortunately, she didn't get as much recognition as she should have. Her line, "NOW a warning?" is one of the best in the film. Goldie Hawn gives a very good performance, and seeing Hawn as a huge woman is amazing. Bruce Willis gives an incredible performance as Ernest Menville, and I never recognized him until he became more famous with his Die Hard series. Even today it's hard to recognize him. Isabella Rossellini gives a wonderful performance that usually just has her walking around mostly nude (and sometimes fully nude). However, her role is a key to the film and she handles it well. And Syndey Pollack gives a funny performance as a doctor who dies after he witnesses Streep's condition.

Death Becomes Her is rated PG-13 for language, comic violence, and nudity. Robert Zemeckis has created a terrific black comedy with zany special effects and a perfect cast. In Who Frames Roger Rabbit?, he was able to create a cartoon world in a human environment. Now, in Death Becomes Her, he has created a live action cartoon with wonderfully funny effects, great direction, and a wonderful soundtrack. This film should be watched, but don't expect it to provoke thoughts because it wasn't made to do that. It's a solid piece of filmmaking and it showcases Streep's comic ability to the fullest. I hope to see her in comedies more now. Watch this film... it is perfect for anyone wanting two hours of entertainment.

***1/2 out of ****

Reviews by Boyd Petrie
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