In a comedy, you can laugh at anything, even death, constantly joked about in this strange 1992 horror/fantasy movie, Death Becomes Her.
Oddly enough, all the protagonists’ troubles begin with friendship and love when BFFs Madeline and Helen, a famous actress and a writer, split up because one conquers and marries the other’s boyfriend, a prominent plastic surgeon.
The other does not take it too well and has a psychological breakdown, ending up in an asylum where she lets herself go and becomes an obese woman obsessed with revenge.
Fourteen years later, the actress must sadly accept the reality that despite her best efforts and continued pursuit of cosmetic interventions, by now, her beauty is failing her.
Even her husband is no longer a surgeon, working for a mortuary company and taking care of the appearance of corpses for their funerals.
Everything changes when Helen invites them to the publication of her new book, astounding everyone by looking younger and more beautiful than she has ever been.
At that point, Madeline falls into utter despair, begging the doctors to operate on her again, even though it is futile.
However, the solution comes from a shadowy secret sect commanded by the magnetic and seductive Lisle von Rhoman, whom the actress discovers she is actually a woman over 70 years old.
The mystery is soon solved: the sect holds a serum that stops the aging process, regressing the body to the beauty of the best years of youth.
After drinking it, Madeline returns home, surprising Helen as she seduces her husband, and the two women, in a jealous rage, end up killing each other.
But the magical serum, which Helen had also purchased, prevents them from dying even while their bodies slowly begin to fall apart.
An ageless director with many faces and talents
Since the days of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Robert Zemeckis has always been one of my favorite directors, as style and substance in his movies.
Moreover, from year to year in his career, we notice his constant search in the technical and digital evolution of his filmmaking skills and his desire to put himself back in the game with a different genre each time.
It is no coincidence that even recently, I have enthusiastically recommended some of his movies, such as Allied or What Lies Beneath, significantly different but connected by the same underlying visual and narrative talent.
Death Becomes Her arrived in 1992, just after the last movie in the successful Back to the Future saga, beginning a new cycle of success for this director that would culminate with the multi-award-winning blockbuster Forrest Gump.
This story is even more brilliant and ironic in its genius and cruelty about Hollywood stars’ obsession with staying young.
In this sense, I can’t help but think of how Zemeckis had enjoyed writing the screenplay of 1941 for his friend Steven Spielberg, where he still destroyed Hollywood literally at gunpoint.
Out of his great love and respect for cinema comes this desire to demythologize the myth, bringing actors back to a human and fallible dimension, even if he does it within an entertaining horror fantasy.
This is precisely why his movies seem to have drunk the magical elixir of this history, standing the test of time and remaining as enjoyable as they were in the 1980s and 1990s.
Not to mention that with his skill in combining special effects and analogs on set, this movie is as incredible and spectacular today as it once was, surpassing colleagues who use tons of CGI yet lack any real soul or reason to exist.
Funny, sexy… and dead!
In addition to the director’s extraordinary visual and narrative prowess, we have a cast competing over who is most charismatic and funny.
Above them is a fantastic Meryl Streep, who is at the peak of her splendor as a woman and her acting chops.
In the role of Madeline Ashton, she reminds me of the old Charlie Chaplin movies, which could make you laugh out loud even through the sadness and nostalgia of the character.
What could be sadder than a famous actress seeing her face grow old, day after day, while audiences continue to idolize her unchanging on-screen beauty?
Goldie Hawn is equally brilliant as her best friend, Helen Sharp, although in this case, what drives her motivations is revenge and the desire to outdo the other woman.
How can one not laugh when we see her locked up in an asylum, watching, again and again, a movie scene where Madeline is brutally murdered?
Without wishing to take anything away from Ms. Streep, Goldie is at her physical best, sexy and provoking, as we have never seen her before.
A charm that Dr. Bruce Willis (like no other man in his right mind) is able to resist, triggering the war between these two women as they transform from sexy bombshells to horrible undead zombies who lose their pieces along the way.
Willis is relatively subdued in his performance, almost passive, working perfectly as a sidekick for the funny situations of the lead actresses.
Finally, let us also mention the magnificent Isabella Rossellini as the esoteric Lisle von Rhoman, practically the living embodiment of the desire to perpetuate beauty beyond the years of old age.
Death Becomes Her was a further boost to the director’s career, becoming a top-ten movie on the 1992 charts, grossing nearly $150 million.