It's another lovely day in the Sutphin household as they sit down to breakfast that mother Beverly (Kathleen Turner) has prepared for them. They discuss their plans, with dad Eugene (Sam Waterston) going to work as a dentist, daughter Misty (Ricki Lake) being picked up by the man she wants in her life, and son Chip (Matthew Lillard) off to work at the video store, but Beverly has a secret that nobody suspects. She is the one behind the obscene phone calls to Dottie Hinkel (Mink Stole), yet as the police arrive, checking up on the locals, they do not suspect a thing...
This irreverent depiction of the perfect crime had all the trademarks of a John Waters movie, and unlike his previous two efforts, arrived with all the censor-baiting that he had made his name with over the years. It took as its focus the idea that polite, conservative, suburban society was actually a seething hotbed of insanity, as exemplified by Beverly's increasingly maniacal behaviour, but also in the habits of the less, well, less murderous denizens of the area. Beverly is our anti-heroine, throwing caution to the wind to act out on her impulses on those who offend her delicate sensibilities, and Waters backs her all the way.
Although it wouldn't stand up in one of those court cases that the director was fond of attending, if anything Serial Mom was an endorsement of murder, a call for those fed up with life's little irritations to take up arms and bump off the prudes and the busybodies, as well as the exponents of bad manners and those who refused to abide by the simple rules that ensure we all get along. Therefore Beverly not only targets the cad who refuses to take Misty's advances seriously, but also those who jump in to steal parking spaces (as Dottie had) or who don't rewind videotapes they have rented (a plot point which dated fairly quickly).
Indeed, it's only the fact that Waters is purposefully making us laugh that excuses Beverly's behaviour and the point of view that murderers might have a good reason for what they do, that being ridding their lives of those who get on their nerves (according to this spoofy take on the world, anyway). Naturally, such extreme acts approached with such a comically mild tone is what makes this so funny, as if Waters is telling us, come on, everyone feels like killing somebody sometimes, surely? This may well be news to most of us, or let us hope it is, but there are also bits of business that remind us killing is not to be taken lightly.
Even if we are chortling away at Turner's note-perfect rendition of a perfect fifties sitcom housewife gone haywire. So in that way Serial Mom is really pulling in two directions, revelling in the rule breaking while making a less blatant admission that murder is less fun than the movies depict. Beverly starts her spree with the mathematics teacher who tells her on a parents afternoon that he thinks Chip must come from a troubled home because he likes to watch horror movies, no matter that his grades are fine, and this offends her so much that she runs him over with her car, then reverses over him for good measure.
Now feeling as if she can throw off the constraints of society, the population of this middle class Baltimore suburb are picked off one by one, with the police hot on her trail. It all leads up to a sensational trial (of course) where Beverly provides her own defence, and finds that Suzanne Somers wants to play her in the inevitable miniseries, all revelling in low cuture as it flatters the audience into being knowing enough to get the joke. Not quite classic Waters, but whether he points out Jesus Christ was a victim of capital punishment, casts Patricia Hearst as a wayward juror (who doesn't catch on to her misdemeanour), or just shows a Chesty Morgan film being put to proper (if unlikely) use, he was still on form, only more perversely friendly - until the last shot, which reminds one that maybe the subject of murder as entertainment is best left to fiction, as the real thing is far less amusing. Music by Basil Poledouris.
Witty American writer/director, the chief proponent of deliberate bad taste in American films. His early efforts are little more than glorified home movies, including Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs, but with the notorious Pink Flamingos Waters found his cult audience.