Englishman #2: Yes, quite. Ripping good laugh.
- Family Guy
Die Mommie Die could have been a one-joke samba. The film is a parody of 1960s big-screen, diva-style soap operas, with a twist; writer/actor Charles Busch plays the aging diva lead, Angela Arden.
Instead, the form itself is funny enough to carry the farce, and there's a surprising undercurrent of pathos and true emotion. Die Mommie Die ends up as a surprisingly-deep film, more than just the window-dressing provided by Busch in high heels.
Angela Arden (Busch) is an aging singing sensation, now content to stay at home, antagonize her aging husband Sol (Phillip Baker Hall) and keep up an affair with a former TV actor/tennis pro Tony (Jason Priestley). But after the family patriarch finds out about the love trysts and she bumps him off through a … unique … poisoning, can Angela keep her family together and restart her singing career?
The film is actually at its least funny when it is trying to be amusing. The script is loaded with gay jokes disguised as Arden's sexual escapades; photos of Arden and Tony in bed and a ménage a trios with two moving men are played for naughty laughs, the type that would have been cut from a slow episode of The Benny Hill Show. Nearly every "bit" planted in the movie revolves around a male playing Arden.
What makes that so frustrating is that the film is funny on its own. Melodrama is, by nature, very funny to modern audiences. Every time Arden turns quickly towards the camera, with the patented soft focus making her look like she's from a dream, it garners a laugh. Every implausible twist in the plot is funny on its own, without the self-awareness of parody necessary.
The performance that makes this film work is Busch as Arden. He has more than enough experience in the role, playing her on stage as well; Die Mommie Die is adapted from his own stage version. It is his over-the-top turn that sets the tone for the rest of the film, including the performances by Priestley, Natasha Lyonne and Frances Conroy.
Die Mommie Die is the final film of the 2003 Sundance Film Series to find its way to DVD. The other films from the series are The Other Side of the Bed, In This World and Dopamine.
Die Mommie Die is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. The motion and quickly changing colors of the LSD trip scene present some problems with pixelation, but otherwise this is a solid video transfer.
The film is mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, though it is not put to substantial use throughout the film. In fact, the mix is almost exclusively through the center, and the soundscape is very narrow.
The Sundance Channel DVD release of Die Mommie Die is absolutely loaded with extras. Every part of the filmmaking process is represented, from Busch's screen test to a Sundance Channel "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette breaking down the filming of Arden's LSD trip, to a full-length director's commentary with director Mark Rucker, Busch and Priestley.
The commentary is interesting, if just to hear Busch's ego loud and clear. He claims to have an "inspiration" for every move he makes in the film. But he, Priestley and Rucker have a very good time reminiscing about the film and pointing out how the design elements came together. They also make light of the cramped productions schedule (the film was shot in 18 days) and how production could only be accomplished in that amount of time with incredible pre-planning and few locations.
But wait, there's more: The disc also gives us a music video for a remix of "Why Not Me," Arden's big hit song, a deleted scene, a "sales" trailer (likely used before the film had a distributor, to try and garner interest from film executives), a gallery of rejected movie posters, stills from the New York and Los Angeles premieres, and trailers for several other Sundance DVDs and upcoming releases, including the other discs in the 2003 Sundance Film Series, Melvin Goes to Dinner, Seeing Other People and AKA. It is an exhaustive set of special features that answers almost every conceivable question about the film.
Die Mommie Die is a difficult film to outright recommend. The film will obviously mean more and be funnier to those who grew up with the actresses and films parodied. But even for those who missed out of the golden age of soft focus and "the magic hour," Die Mommie Die is funny and, at times, surprisingly touching.