Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis headline this supremely dark comedy about two rival women (Streep and Hawn) who take a potion promising them youth and eternal life. But jealousy consumes them and leads to both their deaths. Once they realize their decaying bodies will need constant maintenance, they try to talk their long-suffering mutual love interest (Willis) into staying with them… forever.
Death Becomes Her is a black comedy produced at a high production level the genre never sees. Like most dark comedies, it was ignored upon initial release but has since become a cult phenomenon. And rightly so. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and co-written by David Koepp and Martin Donovan, the film manages to marry a concept ripe for tragicomedy — the pursuit of youth at all costs — with three leading actors ready to play against type and show new sides of themselves.
We’ve seen Goldie Hawn do comedy before, but we’ve never seen her this calculating and cruel. Meryl Streep shows tremendous comic timing in her performance, as well as some remarkable physical comedy. But it’s Bruce Willis who is perhaps most surprising in his comic turn as the alcoholic plastic surgeon caught between these two women. Isabella Rossellini is highly memorable as the seductive, scantily-clad possessor of the magic potion, and director Sydney Pollack has a wonderful cameo as a doctor who needs a second opinion after discovering Streep’s character has no pulse.
I adore Death Becomes Her. It’s a dark fairy tale about extreme characters being nasty to each other and getting their just desserts. There are innovative visual effects in the film, particularly in a no-holds-barred catfight between the two women, both freshly dead. Streep’s neck is broken and her head keeps flopping around, while Hawn has had a huge hole blown out of her torso. The stars bring the material to life, and the production values stand as a monumental ‘fuck you’ on behalf of all the dark comedies that never get noticed upon their initial release. If you’ve never seen this underrated treasure, sit back and enjoy watching the sparks fly.
Academy Award: Best Visual Effects