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On July 31, 1992, Universal unveiled Robert Zemeckis’ dark comedy Death Becomes Her, starring Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
Just when you think Death Becomes Her has gone as far over the top as possible, you discover there are many more walls to climb. Director Robert Zemeckis ascends to new heights and broadens out to new dimensions in this strangely fascinating, pitch-dark comedy.
Being so dark and so over-the-top, the film might have trouble with the mainstream crowd. Still, the three stars, and Zemeckis himself, are all major draws, which offers a good chance of box office life for Death.
Boasting incredible makeup and special effects, this film is also noteworthy for the willingness of its three glamorous stars to appear as characters somewhat less than glamorous.
Playing against type, Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis successfully create the unlikeliest of triumvirates. Hawn has already established herself as a top comic actress, and Streep has steadily proved that accentless, comic roles might just be her forte. But it’s Willis who comes off best here. No only does he make us forget about his action-with-a-smirk flicks, he makes us forget Hudson Hawk — no mean feat!
The story opens on Broadway in 1978. Willis convincingly plays Ernest Menville, a nerdish but super talented plastic surgeon. Together with plain fiancee Helen (Hawn), they are attending an awful musical version of “Sweet Bird of Youth,” starring the famous Madeline Ashton (Streep), who also happens to be an old friend, or something, of Helen.
After the show, Ernest fawns over Madeline while Helen fears that the actress will once again steal away her man. When, in fact, Ernest and Madeline do get married, the fate of all three is sealed.
Seven years pass and we discover Helen is now a disgustingly obese hermit, still obsessing over Madeline’s and Ernest’s betrayal. The makeup here is so convincing that it actually becomes unnerving to see our beautiful Goldie such a mess. Anyway, vengeance finally crosses Helen’s mind, and another seven years quickly pass by.
Now we discover that the romance between Ernest and Madeline is so dead it’s beginning to rot. We get a sense of this after a servant wakes up the passed-out-on-the-floor-from-booze Ernest and his first words are, “Is it up yet?”
Enter back into their lives a newly svelte Goldie, and the stage is now set for a battle of wills that turns quite physical. Without giving too much away, both Helen and Madeline end up taking some kind of eternally youthful potion from a mystically strange Isabella Rossellini (who further entrenches herself as the new Queen of Bizarre). This leads to a brutal fight between these two immortals that would make a Terminator proud. In fact, the special effects here are similar to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The effects are awesome, if occasionally too gruesome to enjoy. All in all, however, Death Becomes Her is clever, different and dementedly entertaining, while commenting on our unhealthy obsession with youth and beauty. This type of darkness lights up the screen. — Jeff Menell, originally published July 27, 1992.
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