Everybody knows that Hollywood is full of people who would sell their soul for youth and beauty, but ... literally? They come pretty close in "Death Becomes Her," a delightfully wicked, twisted black comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis -- the dialogue is wonderfully barbed, the comedy is warped, and the quartet of lead actors give the performances of a lifetime.
Years ago, starlet Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) stole plastic surgeon Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) from her longtime rival, dowdy writer Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn). Consumed by hatred for Madeleine, Helen becomes an obese recluse and is eventually locked up in a mental institution.
Present day (and by that, I mean the 1980s): Madeline and Ernest (now a harpyish has-been and an alcoholic undertaker) appear at the signing for Helen's bestselling book -- and are shocked to see that she's now a stunning youthful bombshell. This drives Madeline to seek out the services of Lisle von Rhoman (Isabella Rossellini), a sensual sorceress who sells her a potion that restores her youth. A small warning: "Take care of your body." Easier said than done.
Meanwhile, Helen and Ernest have been plotting to kill her, and a fight leads to Madeleine falling down the stairs and twisting her head 180 degrees. She's not dead... but not really alive either. And the problem is, Helen has had the same treatment -- meaning that when Madeleine gets her revenge, her rival doesn't die either. Is there a way out of this mess, or are the ladies doomed to eternal unlife?
If you like moral messages with your warped comedy, here's "Death Becomes Her's": a short life lived to the fullest is way better than an empty endless one, and shallow people who try to stay eternally young are pathetic. Nobody can argue with that, but that's not the reason people watch this movie. They watch it for the wickedly warped wit and the hilarious trio of actors.
Zemeckis does an absolutely brilliant job with the sort of gothic-screwball plot, which is the perfect mix of ghoulish humor and slapstick. The dialogue is full of witty barbs ("You're a fraud, Helen! You're a walking lie and I can see right through you!"), and hilarious dialogue ("They took her to the morgue." "The morgue? She'll be FURIOUS!"). And some of the scenes here will make you howl your head off, such as the grand finale -- why can't more movies end this brilliantly?
Additionally, Zemeckis brought out the best in all three lead actors. I don't really like Hawn's acting, and tend to consider Willis' mixed -- but Streep and Hawn are deliciously catty, shallow and a little crazed, playing a pair of thoroughly repulsive women. Willis plays Ernest as a depressed mortician who gets increasingly frantic as the story goes on, and Isabella Rossellini is brilliant as the beauty-obsessed sorceress.
"Death Becomes Her" is the sort of movie I wish they would make more often -- a wild, hilarious dark comedy with a twisted streak a mile wide. A must see.