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Film Review: Death Becomes Her (1992)

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SYNOPSIS:

When a woman learns of an immortality treatment, she sees it as a way to outdo her long-time rival.

REVIEW:

There are questions and themes that always seem to come up throughout the centuries of stories that exist. These concepts manage to capture the minds of audiences. They are intriguing in ways that keep them repeating throughout literature, film, and other forms of storytelling. One of the most common themes is the idea of never-ending youth.

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Death Becomes Her took a darkly comedic look at the idea of agelessness and youthful beauty. The 1992 film began with Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) and her fiancé Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) watching a Broadway musical featuring actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep). After the couple was invited backstage to meet Madeline, Ernest broke off the engagement and married the actress. Fourteen years later, their marriage was struggling. Madeline’s career went the way of her youth, and Ernest took to passing out drunk in the study. Madeline visited a mysterious woman named Lisle (Isabella Rossellini) who gave her a potion to keep her eternally youthful. At the same time, Helen returned and conspired with Ernest to kill Madeline. This all led to dark hijinks and big laughs.

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What worked best in Death Becomes Her was the comedic chemistry between the three leads. It was a pleasant surprise to see Meryl Streep in this kind of role. It was a nice contrast to her usual work in Oscar nominated dramas. She looked like she was having fun playing the self-absorbed Hollywood star, still pining for her youthful looks. It was also nice to see Bruce Willis play the schlubby husband to her character. He comes from a comedic background, and it shined through in the role. Goldie Hawn also excelled in her role as the obsessive, revenge driven ex-fiancée. She savored every moment that she got in the movie, acting maniacal in the most entertaining way. All three leads played off of each other perfectly, letting the comedy fly in all directions.

The story itself was as wacky as the characters in it. It switched from moments of “What the heck is going on?” to moments of “This is amazing!” It managed to surprise with each turn it took, going to places that were at once both predictable and unexpected. Some turns were to move the story along while others were a way to bring in more jokes. It’s a testament to the script that material so twisted could be as funny as it was. It should be noted that Death Becomes Her was originally intended to be a second Tales from the Crypt film.

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The makeup work in Death Becomes Her was exceptional. The actors were able to subtly change from their characters’ younger versions to older versions in believable ways. Though some of it might look tacky, such as the fat suit Goldie Hawn wore in an early scene, or the final scene’s facial work, it all fit the tone. The makeup even became an essential part of the story, as Ernest’s job was to prepare corpses for funerals. He put makeup on dead bodies to make them look almost alive again. Makeup was an important part both onscreen and behind the scenes.

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There were other effects in Death Becomes Her that didn’t work as well. Most of the special effects involved with bodies being modified in unrealistic ways were bad. Holes in bodies had weird green screen work that was noticeable. One character ended up with their head backwards and their head looked like it was no longer a part of their body when they spoke. Them effect didn’t hurt it much but stood out.

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Death Becomes Her is a nearly forgotten black comedy that works to perfection. It managed to take what could be a subject matter too dark for some, and turn it into a wacky farce. Almost all of the comedy worked and the final moment was one of the best ways that it could have finished. It’s remarkable that there aren’t more people talking about this movie. It is great.

Bonus Features

    • NEW The Making Of Death Becomes Her Featuring Interviews With Director Robert Zemeckis, Writer David Koepp, Producer Steve Starkey, Director Of Photography Dean Cundey, Production Designer Rick Carter And SFX Artists Lance Anderson And David Anderson
    • Vintage “Making-Of” Featurette
    • Photo Gallery
    • Original Theatrical Trailer

Death Becomes Her (1992) is now available on bluray per Shout Factory

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