Film Review: Death Becomes Her (1992)


The most important films in cinema history are usually not the best ones. And even when they happen to be relatively popular, it is mostly due to technical novelty factor that quickly fades away and the film subsequently gets forgotten. This is what, to a certain degree, happened to Death Becomes Her, 1992 black comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis.

The plot begins in 1978 when struggling Broadway actress Madeline Ashton (played by Meryl Streep) meets her bookish best friend Helen Sharp (played by Goldie Hawn) and her fiance, plastic surgeon Dr. Ernest Menville (played by Bruce Willis). Despite being not exactly young and beautiful, Madeline manages to steal Ernest from Helen and ends as his wife. Years later, Madeline as Hollywood actress is fighting losing battle to maintain her good looks while Ernest is miserable alcoholic, forced to work as glorified cosmetic mortician. Yet, Helen suddenly appears looking incredibly stunning and determined to win Ernest back. Not willing to lose to her old romantic rival, Madeline agrees to meet mysterious Lisle Von Rhuman (played by Isabella Rossellini) who offers simple and perfect solution to her problems – an elixir that would give her eternal life and youth. Madeline takes it, but it soon learns that elixir doesn’t protect from injuries, accidents or violence and when she falls downstairs and mangles her body, Ernest would have to use all of his skills to patch her up. Things can complicated when Madeline gets in fight with Helen and learns that she too had taken Lisle’s elixir.

The main purpose and the main attraction of Death Becomes Her were CGI effects by Industrial Light and Magic, which, for the first time, allowed to artificial skin texture be applied in live action films. The pioneering technology, which was quite impressive for its age, and, together with prosthetics and make-up, created grotesque ways in which Madeline and Helen continue to live despite their heads being turned or having large holes in their bodies. The film deservedly won Oscar for such achievement, but like many such films everything else was less impressive. The cast was solid, though, with Mery Streep again enjoying opportunity to discard image of serious Oscar-grabbing actress and prove herself as true comedienne, together with veteran comedienne Goldie Hawn who also does good job. Bruce Willis, who completely discards his macho image of action hero in the role of mostly pathetic, old, cowardly and unhappy man, is also good. Unfortunately, the script by Martin Donovan and David Koepp makes his character’s transformation into something of protagonist and moral anchor near end look unconvincing. Even the rich opportunity for satirical takes on Hollywood’s obsession with eternal beauty is mostly missed. Furthermore, Zemeckis, obviously too much in love with special effects, makes plenty of scenes look overlong and for the audience accustomed to CGI Death Becomes Her will become something of a bore, especially near rather weak and poorly written end. Zemeckis had much more luck with another exercise in groundbreaking CGI technology by picking a proper story and character in Forrest Gump.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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