Oct 4, 2014

Review: Death Becomes Her (1992)

All the right ingredients seem to be there when it comes to Death Becomes Her. Starting with the director, Robert Zemeckis is a great one with more than enough great titles to his name. Then you got Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis in starring roles which sounds great. Death Becomes Her is a black comedy though and usually it's the kind of thing that's pretty divisive. I find myself liking black comedies more often than not, but it remains to be seen if I can count this one among the ones that I like.

The other notable thing about Death Becomes Her is that it won an Academy Award for Visual Effects. It dates back to 1992, so there's a strong possibility that the effects are completely outdated and might look awful. We'll see though, but at the same time I don't want to be too harsh just because the effects might look bad now. They were good once upon a time and as long as they don't dominate the movie, we're good.


Genre: comedy, fantasy
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Produced by: Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, Joan Bradshaw
Written by: Martin Donovan, David Koepp
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Running time: 104 minutes
Production company: Universal Pictures
Distributed by: Universal Pictures, United International Pictures, National Broadcasting Company, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $55,000,000
Box office: $149,022,650 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Ogilvy, Adam Storke, Nancy Fish, Alaina Reed-Hall, Michelle Johnson, Mary Ellen Trainor, William Frankfather, John Ingle



It's the year 1978 and writer Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) is with her soon-to-be husband Dr. Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) at a Broadway performance of an old friend of her's, Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep). Ernest, who's a plastic surgeon, is in awe of Madeline which worries Helen a lot since she's lost multiple men to her in the past. Following a backstage meeting, it's not long before Ernest is married to Madeline, leaving Helen to become an overweight crazy cat-lady. Fourteen years later, Helen is out for revenge after a stint in a mental hospital on Madeline who's in the midst of a miserable marriage with Ernest.


I like the setup of Death Becomes Her a lot. It is indeed a pretty exaggerated and ridiculous story to begin, but it doesn't go overboard. Well it kind of does actually, but I like it. All three leads are pretty funny in their roles and the script has its fair share of quotable material. When the fantasy element of the film is introduced, it's also pretty well done and doesn't strain it's believability unless you think a little too much.

The black comedy aspect of Death Becomes Her is probably my favourite thing about the movie. It's all about the obsession with staying young and beautiful for as long as possible, or forever really. Madeline is a prime example of this and her obsession quickly leads her down a slippery slope. She abuses plastic surgery but finds that it's starting to not be enough for her, like a drug. The whole beauty-obsessed angle in DBH is like an extrapolated version of the beauty-obsession that we see today. So much so that's it's like a dystopian, alternate universe and reminds me vaguely of Terry Gilliam material.

In terms of the CGI, a lot of it has unfortunately aged pretty badly and looks ridiculous now. I also do feel that it interferes with the story as well as the actual comedy between the actors that was working so well. Also, around this point when the CGI is prominently used, there seems to be a shift in comedy tone, making all the actors go overboard in their delivery. Streep, Hawn and Willis were already toeing the line on going completely overboard which I liked but they're made to overstep it. Probably to compete with the CGI. It's too bad because up until that point, I thought DBH was quite good.

Death Becomes Her starts off very promisingly as a black comedy. Around the end of the middle is where its problems start become apparent. It's no fun when CGI gets in the way of a movie and it especially bothers me with Death Becomes Her because I think all three main actors were doing a good job at being amusing on their own without the effects. There are still some pretty good comedic parts though and it's worth a watch for those looking for something a little bit different.



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