Die, Mommie, Die!

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film opens with Angela Arden kneeling in front of her twin sister Barbara’s grave. Angela is a lounge singer who is attempting to resuscitate her floundering career, which became obsolete around the same time Barbara committed suicide. She’s unhappily married to her film director husband Sol Sussman, with whom they have two children–Lance, who is gay and emotionally disturbed, and Edith, a “daddy’s girl” who is openly contemptuous of her mother. Also living in the house is the snoopy maid Bootsie, who is infatuated with Sol. Bored and unhappy, Angela begins cheating on her husband with Tony Parker, a tennis-playing “lothario” and failed actor who is reputed to be well endowed.

Sol finds out after hiring a private detective to follow Angela around. He confronts her about it but he refuses to divorce her. Instead, he gives her “life in prison”. Not only does he cancel all of Angela’s credit cards, he forbids her from performing at an engagement in New York, destroying the contract before she has a chance to sign it. Feeling trapped and eager to get her hands on her husband’s money, Angela poisons an ever-constipated Sol with an arsenic-laced suppository.

Despite the fact that Angela receives virtually nothing in Sol’s will, her children, along with Bootsie, begin to suspect Angela’s involvement. And the suspicious circumstances of Sol’s death bring old questions about Angela’s sister’s death to light. Edith–and later Lance–hatch a plot to get her to confess. Meanwhile, Tony successfully seduces both the children, taking an unusual interest in the details surrounding Aunt Barbara’s death. After Bootsie is found dead, the children eventually get Angela to confess her crimes by lacing her evening coffee with LSD.

During her bender, Angela not only reveals that she poisoned Sol, but that she is not Angela but really Barbara. In flashback, Barbara reveals how as Angela’s career flourish, her own fell apart, culminating in her arrest for jewelry theft. After serving her sentence, Barbara arrived at Angela’s mansion, greeted with scorn and ridicule from the immensely egotistical Angela. Watching the physical and emotional abuse Angela doled out to Sol and the children, Barbara devised a plan to poison her sister and take over her life, her family and, most importantly, her career. The children watch with confusion as Barbara announces she killed Angela.

As they turn the tape over to Tony, Edith and Lance fight over who will be the one to run away with him, while he respectfully refuses both of them. Meanwhile, a masked assailant pops up and tries to dispatch Barbara; in the scuffle, Barbara pulls off the assailant’s mask, revealing Sol underneath. With all the primary players in the room, Sol reveals how he and Bootsie faked his death for him to escape outstanding mob debts he couldn’t pay back and how he was forced to kill Bootsie to protect his secret. Tony then reveals he is really an FBI agent who’s been heading a case investigation Angela’s murder before arresting Sol. The children – finally understanding Barbara’s motives and desperation – hug Barbara while Tony says he will destroy the evidence to protect her from an eventual prison stint and trip to the gas chamber. But Barbara tells them, as she walks to her waiting police escort outside, that by finally being herself, she will finally gain her freedom from living under her sister’s shadow

REVIEW:

I told a friend that I was watching a film called Die, Mommie, Die! and they joked that I should’ve waited until Mother’s Day to do this one. The irony of that statement is not lost on me. As a matter of fact, I kind of wish I had held it off. So, I’m sure you haven’t heard anything about this film, but maybe my words here will encourage or discourage you from hunting down a copy.

What is this about?

The year is 1967, and Angela Arden (cross-dresser Charles Busch) is a washed-up pop singer who’s married to Sol (Philip Baker Hall) but is involved with an unemployed actor named Tony (Jason Priestley). When Sol turns up dead, all fingers point to Angela. Leading the charge is Angela’s daughter Edith (Natasha Lyonne), who’s eager to get even by killing her mother. Edith’s brother (Stark Sands), however, is not so sure that mom is to blame.

What did I like?

Homage. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In that case, the likes of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and actresses that have played similar characters should be very flattered after they watch this. Not only does it pay respect to those film, but it also serves as a bit of a spoof on the genre, or subgenre, I should say.

Kind of a drag. Looking at the star of this film, you would never guess she was a guy in drag, until he starts talking and you get a closer look. It is that deception which is important to sell this film. Let’s face it, some people are just too closed-minded to accept watching a film that stars a guy in drag, but if they can be tricked into picking this up, not knowing what they’re getting into, then that is a feat in itself. What is remarkable about having the star be a bit of a gender bender is that none of the supporting casts seems to acknowledge that she is a he. As a matter of fact, Jason Priestly even kisses him, showing that there is no weirdness there.

Overacting. At first, I thought the overacting that these actors were doing was a bit much, but as the film went on, it dawned on me that it was part of what works for this film. The overacting was a spoof on old films of the era that this flick was spoofing. As someone who had spent quite some time watching films from the bygone era, I can appreciate the film having fun with what was a different way of acting and performing.

What didn’t I like?

The play’s this thing. At times this seems like it is a play translated to the big screen. The irony about that is that it would be another 4 years before this would become a play. I am taking into consideration the fact that the acting throughout the film is wooden and over the top, which is partly done on purpose, it is the delivery of these lines that bothers me, as it doesn’t come off as natural, but rather like they might as well have been reading the teleprompter, rather than memorizing their lines.

I remember him. Back in the 90s, Jason Priestley was a teen heartthrob. After Beverly Hills, 90210 ended, though, he seemed to have disappeared from public view, appearing in sporadic guest appearances but nothing notable, at least that comes to mind. It was good to see the guy working again, but I wonder if this was nothing more than stunt casting, meant to bring in a “name” actor. I’m not so sure they got the desired result, despite a fairly solid performance from Priestley.

Plot. Had this been a more, shall we say, respectable flick, this plot would not have seemed so bad, but because this is in a spoof that seems to be trying to take itself a little too seriously, it just doesn’t seem to work as well as it should. This is the kind of melodrama that we see from films that this flick is spoofing, but the difference is they do it well. By the time this film finally gets into a groove with the plot, it then rushes things in the final scene so that everything can be wrapped up in a nice little package, just like almost every other film seems to do.

In the mood for a spoof featuring a guy dressed up as a woman who embodies the characteristic of the strong, evil type women from films such as Mommy Dearest? Die, Mommie, Die! is the perfect film for you. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case with me. I didn’t hate this picture, but it sure didn’t do anything for me. As a matter of fact, other than a fresh-faced Natasha Lyonne and some nice jazz vocal charts, there really isn’t much that interested me. Still, if this is the kind of flick that appeals to you, go ahead and give it a shot.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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