Monday, May 8, 2017

Dearest Review: Desperate Housewife

About two-thirds into the 1994 comedy Serial Mom there is a scene where happy homemaker Beverly Sutphin, suspected of being a serial murderer/crank phone caller, is followed by a string of Baltimore police cars in a low speed chase as she and her family drive to church. Cut to roughly two months after the movie opened to piddling box office returns and we have the world tuning in to live television coverage of basically the same scenario, except the Sutphin family car has been replaced with a now-infamous white Bronco.

In the 23 years since cult movie director John Waters unleashed the film he considers his best onto the world it has become even more prescient... and popular (Mother's Day TV airings have become an annual tradition in some markets). With its main satirical target being America's obsession with turning bad people who do bad things into pop culture icons, Serial Mom kind of sort of predicted our current state, a climate where a smarmy ex-reality TV star and self-confessed sexual predator can be elected to the highest office in the country.

"Yes, Mr. President, I said pussy willow."

Featuring a comedic tour de force performance by Kathleen Turner in the title role, Serial Mom cheerfully lampoons not just "true crime" sensationalism but suburban life (a recurring theme in Waters work; see also Polyester); with its Bernard Herrmann-esque score and frequent bird references, it's like Norman Rockwell meets Norman Bates. The cinematic homages don't end there, with onscreen clips from such grindhouse classics as Herschel Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast and William Castle's Strait-Jacket. (In a genius casting move, Waters recently played Castle in an episode of the FX TV series Feud: Bette and Joan.) And it wouldn't be a John Waters movie without cameos by such fringe celebrities as Patricia Hearst, Traci Lords and even Chesty Morgan.

The new collector's edition Blu-ray from Shout! Factory (available tomorrow) includes two feature-length audio commentaries by Waters (he is joined by his leading lady in one) plus approximately 80 minutes of additional bonus features, most of them new. Of particular interest is a filmed conversation between Waters, Turner and co-star Mink Stole, a Waters regular who memorably played Beverly's crank call victim Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom; after listening to them reminisce here one can't help but wish they would each do more work (it's been 13 years since Waters' last movie, for example). At one point in the conversation Waters mentions that he has spoken to several people who actually believed Serial Mom was based on a real case, which just goes to show that when it comes to America's fixation on "true crime" stories, the "truth" is all relative.

Dearest Rating: 8/10

Review by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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