Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Serial Mom


Norman and I wrapped our guest shots for this season's ER today. Our characters’ lives were saved with a quick hemicorporectomy and colonic irrigation by the brilliant Dr. Greene, played by Anthony Edwards. For a grand finale to the episode, I led the entire cast through the set in a tap along conga line to the Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah. Little Noah Wyle has quite a future in show dancing if he ever decides to make something of his career. He can buck and wing with the best of them. I don't often deign to do TV, but it was fun getting to work with Norman on something other than his tantrums at home. We both return to our respective film sets tomorrow morning; he to San Diego where he continues to shoot Waterworld II: The Gills Have Eyes with David Hasselhoff and Angelina Jolie and I to Flying Down to Reno, the musical remake of Airport '75 filming on the back parking lot of the Pico Boulevard Chuck E. Cheese.

Joseph, my manager, was on the phone when I returned home from the ER set this evening. He has finalized the dates of my appearance in Opp, Alabama at the opening of the Snake Wranglers' Hall of Fame, for Saturday, August the 12th. I have a great deal of work to do in order to get the numbers ready for The Ssssoundssss of Ssssilence concert I plan to do that evening. The cobra dress isn't done. The iceberg set piece has to be converted into a large reptilian egg, I have to learn the music to The Anaconda Waltz and Python the Blue Horizon, and I have to order a new Copperhead wig from House O'Hair. I just don't know where to begin.

Given all these little tasks, it seemed to me that it was an evening for a film about a woman with too many pressures upon her; therefore, I repaired to the home theater and selected John Waters' Serial Mom starring Kathleen Turner. Turner was one of the major female stars of the 1980s following her splendid work in Body Heat, Romancing the Stone and Peggy Sue Got Married. The 1990s weren't kind to her, following some bad career moves, some personal problems, and some really lousy film choices. Yet, when given the right role, she continued to prove that she could still deliver the goods and she had her role of the decade in this little gem.

Turner plays Beverly Sutphin, a Baltimore housewife and mother, married to a dentist (Sam Waterston) with two teenage children (Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard). At first glance, she appears to be a June Cleaver clone, but it doesn't take long for us to discover there's a secret demented side to her personality. Between baking, bird watching, and creating the perfect meatloaf, she's indulging in correspondence with Ted Bundy and Richard Speck, terrorizing the neighbors with threats and obscene phone calls, and turning herself into vengeance demon against those who commit social errors. Eventually, she sets out on a killing spree, removing acquaintances and neighbors who commit such sins as not recycling, forgetting to rewind video tapes before returning, standing her daughter up on a date, and other such unpardonable crimes.

This is a John Waters film, so this is all played strictly for black comedy laughs and, for the most part, he keeps the tone light and the gags coming as the body count mounts, and the entire Baltimore police force is chasing after 'Serial Mom'. Occasionally he slips - a murder in a nightclub seems a bit gratuitously cruel and unnecessary, but the hits are more frequent than the misses. Waters is having great fun sending up the media circus around famous murder cases including the sale of ancillary rights, the cameos of the rich and famous (a self-mocking Suzanne Somers), and the complicity of the press. It's his strongest project since Hairspray in terms of consistency. It's full of pop-culture and film references throughout, which are fun for the Waters fan.

Much of the film's success is due to inspired casting. Kathleen Turner is near Oscar-worthy as the murderous housewife; as she flies through the streets of Baltimore in a stolen catering truck, madly pursuing her next victim, she's got a demented gleam in her eye and it’s obvious she's having the time of her life. Turner wraps her memorably husky voice around Waters scatological lines and gives them a fabulous brio delivery. You'll never be able to look at a pussywillow quite the same way again. Whether she's singing along to Barry Manilow, discomfiting witnesses on the stand while acting as her own attorney in the final trial sequence, or imitating the birds at the feeder, it’s her film and she knows it. Sam Waterston's major job is to be a foil and he has wonderful reactions and double takes as his family life careens more and more out of control. Waters' stable of iconoclastic performers turns up as usual - Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Patty Hearst, and Mink Stole all put in appearances.

This is not a film for the easily offended but for those who enjoy dark humor and black comedy, it’s remarkably sunny in its own way and well worth a look.

Squashed fly. Death by fireplace poker. Death by air conditioner. Death by telephone. Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter reference. Gratuitous Chesty Morgan clip. Dog licking. Annie sing along. Mosh pit. Capital punishment sermon. Gratuitous Joan Crawford in Straight-Jacket clip. Out of season white shoes.

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