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DIE MOMMIE DIE!(director: Mark Rucker; screenwriters: Charles Busch/based on his stage play; cinematographer: Kelly Evans; editor: Philip Harrison; music: Dennis McCarthy; cast: Charles Busch (Angela Arden), Frances Conroy (Bootsie Carp), Philip Baker Hall (Sol Sussman), Natasha Lyonne (Edith Sussman), Jason Priestley (Tony Parker), Stark Sands (Lance Sussman); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Dante Di Loreto/Anthony Edwards/Bill Kenwright; Sundance; 2003)
“This drag queen camp farce was an unfunny drag.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This drag queen camp farce was an unfunny drag. First-time director, veteran stage director, Mark Rucker keeps the parody of 1950’s Hollywood melodramas (especially of Douglas Sirk-style overheated family dramas) and of over plotted whodunit crime dramas, stagebound. Rucker makes the film (shot on a shoestring budget and over an 18 day period), that’s set in 1967, look goofier than the overwrought films it’s trying to satirize. It stars female impersonator Charles Busch (“Psycho Beach Party,” adapted by him from his off-Broadway play) as a cross-dresser and is based on his 1999 play that originated in Los Angeles; he also writes the screenplay.

It tells the story of once famous pop singer Angela Arden (Charles Busch), who is now washed-up in semi-retirement and lives in a Hollywood mansion and dresses in the elegant style of Joan Crawford. From Angela’s past we learn that her good-for-nothing twin sister Barbara (also Busch), who appears with her in a musical vaudeville act, asks Angela for a hand-out, and this doesn’t please sis. When rejected, the unstable Barbara takes an overdose of sleeping pills and commits suicide. Angela goes solo and becomes a star attraction.

Angela, when on top as a singer, married schmaltzy movie mogul Sol Sussman (Philip Baker Hall), an old-fashioned liberal whose films went out of style, who thinks of his wife as a possession. Sol’s motto in life is: ”Make it big, give it class and leave ’em with a message!” They are now locked into a loveless marriage and have two twisted children: daddy’s favorite Edith (Natasha Lyonne), a hopeless neurotic who takes pleasure in mocking mom, and the gay dysfunctional college student he detests, Lance (Stark Sands). His son was just given the boot from college for causing a homosexual orgy among the faculty. The daughter is livid that her nymphomaniac mom is having an affair with failed TV actor, tennis instructor and bisexual well-hung gigolo Tony (Jason Priestley), while dad is out of town on business.

The vindictive producer Dad learns of the affair and reacts by angrily saying he will not grant his sexy red-headed wife a divorce, cuts off her expense accounts and prevents her musical comeback in the Catskills. Angela then schemes to poison hubby with a tainted suppository. The family’s dipsomaniac loyal housekeeper Bootsie Carp (Frances Conroy) and Edith, intuitively feel that Angela murdered her hubby but have no proof. Sol’s will completely cuts off Angela and the money is left to the kids in a trust fund, and Bootsie inherits the estate. It leads to a trick ending, where there are a few twists in both Sol and Barbara’s deaths and a supposedly eye-opening scene that includes an unwitting LSD trip by mom that has her make a few revealing confessions.

The film makes no headway trashing the Russ Meyer and Ross Hunter trashy melodramas, or in trying to parody the classier over-the-top Sirk melodramas, or of zeroing in on the twisted relationships between the screwed-up kids and the screwed-up parents of Hollywood folks. Perhaps fans of John Waters and his lightheaded camp films will find this one more to their liking than I did. I found the comedy strained and its attempt at camp hardly realized by a director and writer so clueless on how to properly do camp.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”