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DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! , USA , 2003 , MPAA Rating : R for strong sexual content, language and a drug scene

DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! is a glorious, oddly loving evocation of those low-budget, high-concept films that populated drive-in screens in the late 50s and early 60s. As brought to glorious life by the brilliantly twisted mind of Charles Busch, the pretensions of that genre are reborn as a study in post-modern camp. Itís a vicious tweak to those films, but itís also palpably obvious that all concerned are entranced by the melodramatic schtick in which those filmed wallowed. There may not be any redeeming social value in them, but thereís a whole lot of fun going on.


Busch stars as Angela Arden, an aging, washed-up pop singer with a constipated tyrant of a producer husband (Philip Baker Hall) struggling with his own case of the has-beens. They live a live of sterile splendor in a Hollywood mansion with their two children, each of whom present a unique set of concerns. Daughter Edith (Natasha Lynonne) is just a little too close to Daddy, and son Lance (Stark Sands) has been expelled from college for fomenting an orgy in the faculty lounge. Tending to them is Bootsie (the wildly entertaining Frances Conroy of televisionís SIX FEET UNDER), a bible-spouting housekeeper with her own dark longings, and Tony Parker (a gamely deadpan Jason Priestly) as the smooth, hip stud of a struggling actor who services several members of the household while harboring his own ulterior motives. When Angela decides she's been pushed too far by hubby, thereís a murder, maybe two, stunning revelations, and an ending worthy of both Cecil B. de Mille and Roger Corman.


Busch channels Lana Turner, Bette Davis, Susan Hayward, and Joan Crawford into Angela. Thereís the calculated tilt of the head, the recoil reaction to any line of dialogue, the arched eyebrow, and the stentorian delivery with just the barest trace of tongue in cheek. Here is a performer who is more diva than most of the ovary-packing portion of the population and twice the dame. Decked out in a wardrobe so carefully thought out that itís almost another character in the flick, he elevates camp to a more aetherial plane while still going for both the glamour and the belly laugh. Suppositories become lethal weapons, and characters spout gems such as ďOne feels a memory lingering like smog over the valley.Ē From the art direction, to the cheesy process shots, to the carefully calibrated plastic performances, it sends up its inspiration without missing a beat.


For all the bad taste and screaming absurdity, DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! is also an odd homage to the nuclear family and the values thereof, even ones that spikeís Mommieís after-dinner coffee with a hit of acid. Yes, itís writ in the language of dysfunction, mayhem and murder with just a dash of Euripides thrown in for gravitas, but its off-kilter affirmation that mother love is a thing of wonder makes for the most wicked cinematic punch line this year.


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