Die Mommie Die!

Unlike Todd Haynes' FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002), a straight-faced reimagining of Douglas Sirk-style family melodramas, Charles Busch's meticulous homage reflects the genre's conventions in a funhouse mirror. Once upon a time, Angela Arden (Busch) and her sister Barbara were an up-and-coming musical act. But Angela became a major recording star of stage, record...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Unlike Todd Haynes' FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002), a straight-faced reimagining of Douglas Sirk-style family melodramas, Charles Busch's meticulous homage reflects the genre's conventions in a funhouse mirror. Once upon a time, Angela Arden (Busch) and her sister Barbara were an up-and-coming musical act. But Angela became a major recording star of stage, record and screen while her sister committed suicide with an overdose of pills. Now Angela, her voice in ruins, is trapped in a loveless marriage to producer Sol Sussman (Philip Baker Hall), whose brand of high-toned, socially conscious dramas have fallen out of favor in hip Hollywood. Perky Edie (Natasha Lyonne), daddy's little girl, hates her histrionic mother; Angela's sexually confused, underachieving son, Lance (Stark Sands), adores her but causes nothing but heartache, his most recent transgression involving expulsion from college for inciting a homosexual orgy among the faculty. And Sol has proof of Angela's infidelity with failed TV actor Tony Parker (Jason Priestley) — one of the small screen's bigger stars, if you get our drift — and takes his revenge by canceling her comeback engagement in the Poconos, refusing her a divorce and cutting off her charge accounts. What's a poor, beleaguered diva to do but kill her husband with an arsenic suppository? Faithful family maid Bootsie Carp (Frances Conroy) and Edie both think Angela murdered her husband, but Angela keeps her frosty facade up and relies on her devastating wardrobe to deflect the slings and arrows of outrageous suspicion. Ultimately, this drag drama's effectiveness depends on how much resonance you find in the sight of a man in a dress mimicking the mannerisms of classic Hollywood's spectacularly artificial golden goddesses. But it's a much sharper film than the Busch-penned PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (2000), largely because traditional Hollywood women's pictures, for all their emotional and couture excesses, had far weightier matters on their celluloid minds than beach-party movies. Busch's script draws heavily from Lana Turner and Sandra Dee's tortured mother/daughter dynamics in IMITATION OF LIFE (1959), sweetened with a healthy dollop of loony LSD psychodrama THE BIG CUBE (1969) — which starred the then-fading Turner — and finished with a grand SUNSET BLVD. (1950) flourish. But fabulous though the allusions, sets and costumes are, Busch's performance is the movie's heart, and like the screen idols whose every gesture he's lovingly absorbed, Busch can pack a world of meaning into an arched eyebrow and a slight crack of the voice.

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