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  Die, Mommie, Die! Eat Your Heart Out, Joan!
Year: 2003
Director: Mark Rucker
Stars: Charles Busch, Jason Priestly, Natasha Lyonne, Philip Baker Hall, Frances Conroy, Stark Sands, Nora Dunn, Stanley DeSantis, Angela Paton, Victor Raider-Wexler, Joshua Farrell, Christopher McDaniel, Tom Hughes, Paul Vinson
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Los Angeles' biggest cemetery, and a vision in white wanders through the tombstones until one woman tending a grave calls out to her: didn't she used to be Angela Arden (Charles Busch), the famous singer? Angela turns and acknowledges her, then thanks her for the flowers, but bristles a little when the lady suggests she make a return to the stage; she knows that is not going to happen any time soon, or perhaps ever. As she walks over to the stone marking her twin sister's grave, she remembers the adulation they received as performers, and once again it sinks in how miserable her home life is: she may be married to a rich movie producer (Philip Baker Hall), but she is deeply unhappy...

This was the movie drag queen extraordinaire Charles Busch made after his cult hit Psycho Beach Party, and like that effort it was a spoof of a certain style of Hollywood entertainment from the past, in that case the beach movies of the nineteen-sixties that proved lucrative for around five years or so. This time it was the women's pictures of that decade that were in his sights, and he penned the script based on his stage play which was a blatant tribute to the likes of Joan Crawford and Lana Turner whose fans loved to watch suffering in mink, and subsequently became much appreciated by those who entertained a camp sensibility, which Busch assuredly did - if you liked those, you'd get the references.

It wasn't only the sixties, either, as there were call backs to more critically esteemed classics such as Mildred Pierce and Sunset Boulevard, but really the heart of Die, Mommie, Die! lay with the point when those glamorous ladies began to mature and find that while they still had a strong following, they could no longer play the ingenue and troubled mothers were what they were landed with, usually with their offspring or ungrateful husbands at the centre of their heartache. Busch's Angela was more of a villainess than Lana would have essayed, but the spirit of Joan's trashier pictures of her late career was strong here, so if you caught where they were coming from you would be in on the rather arch joke.

What was important was whether it was funny or not, and the fact was this played to a very niche audience where the Venn diagram of classic Hollywood buffs and kitsch-loving gay men intersected. Everyone else may wonder where the joke was, especially as the writer-star was not below including some jarringly blunt language of the sort that his idols would never have dreamt of speaking in public, in their films or otherwise. Nevertheless, if you found the notion of Bette Davis swearing like a trooper once the cameras stopped rolling amusing, then this was the comedy for you, or indeed any others in her contemporaries in the leading ladies of the Golden Age who clung onto fame like grim death as they began to find their options were either growing more ridiculous or more lurid.

Angela has Jason Priestly as her gigolo and lives in her mansion with her mogul partner, housekeeper (Frances Conroy) and two teenage kids, Edith (Natasha Lyonne) and Lance (Stark Sands), the former who is overfond of daddy and the latter overfond of mommie, to the extent that Edith is Angela's enemy and Lance is struggling with his sexuality (we're told he was expelled from college for inadvertently encouraging the male faculty into a gay orgy). That saucy business was laid on with a trowel, and it's true this was far from subtle, but there were times when we seemed to be watching Busch present his sexual fantasies on the big screen: he even had a sex scene with two men and clever use of a female body double. The primmer aficionado of the material he plainly adored was not going to get along with this, but if you watched them to revel in their artificiality and unintentional humour you would be better disposed to the aims here, and more than that, if you loved watching, say, Susan Hayward or Rosalind Russell bulldoze their way through the cast of her movies, you could sympathise with Angela in the same, surprisingly non-ironic manner. Although this was a preposterous send-up, the admiration for classic stars was nothing but sincere. Music by Dennis McCarthy.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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