Tuesday, June 20, 2017

In short: Serial Mom (1984)

 In all honesty, I’ve never been much of a fan of John Waters’s films. I find the campy shock the squares side of cult movies the man operates in generally not terribly interesting – perhaps because I might be square but I’m mostly not shocked by it and really don’t relate to the approach much. That doesn’t mean I’m not happy Waters exists and makes films, mind you, for while his stuff may usually not be my jam, it clearly is his, and last time I looked, directors following their personal obsessions and interests is how it should be. Serial Mom, however, does work for me quite well.

This serial killer comedy about a murderous suburban house wife played by Kathleen Turner is one of the films that came to pass when Waters somehow got the opportunity to work with actual Hollywood money. I can’t see that happening today, or rather, they’d probably try to get Waters to make a (serious) superhero movie. As it stands, Waters made great use of his budget, not just by hiring a cast of slightly higher profile actors than his usual posse (though some of them are in here too). Most impressive is how good the film looks. Waters is clearly putting to work everything he learned when making independent films to create a so-healthy-it-is-sickly (until it turns out it is actually sick) kind of suburban paradise/freak show that’s so bright and tasteless it is only natural it exclusively harbours people as unhinged as everyone in here is. As a satire, this is of course incredibly on the nose, but being unsubtle is one of the things Waters is clearly about, and here he is so imaginative in the escalation of, well, everything, that the unsubtle business filling the film can still be surprising.

The film also happens to contain one of the career best performances of Kathleen Turner. It may not be a nuanced one but then a nuanced performance would rather be missing the point, for what Turner needs to do is throw herself into every craziness, every indignity and every tasteless joke and own it completely, seeing as she’s not supposed to portray an actual human being but the over-the-top peak of everything that’s frightening (and kinda seductive) about suburban life, serial killers and the society that birthed them Waters is so lovingly skewering here. Which she does with such energy and conviction, with a complete lack of vanity she could probably have carried the film alone even if Waters hadn’t been as at the top of his game as he is here.

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