To Die For (1995)

You know, I missed this when it came out but I always sort of regretted it. At the same time, I had come to suspect that it was not, in fact, very good. But Nicole Kidman won a Golden Globe (best actress in a musical or comedy, which, okaaay) and she’s one of those actresses that I sort of like but not as much as I think I should—which, I suppose, is the sign of a really good PR agent.

Oh, we hadn't seen NOTHING yet, had we?
What’s not to love?

When all is said and done, Ms. Kidman is to be commended for a tremendous performance as the dimwitted sociopath but, yeah, it’s not a great movie. Between The Boy, his Girl, The Flower and I, I was the only one who really liked it, and I didn’t really like it. The Boy and his Girl were bored, I think because they didn’t get the element of cunning that was central to the Suzanne Stone (Kidman) character. They thought she was just a dummy, and so when she starts running around with Joaquin Phoenix while her none-to-bright husband (Matt Dillon, who I have always liked much more since he grew up) is away, they god bored.

But if you look at the whole thing as a set-up from the get-go. That she planned to kill him the moment he first says “No” to her, then it’s—well, it’s not a lot more interesting, but it’s less aimless. Buck Henry wrote the screenplay but none of the kids recognized him from The Graduate, nor did they recognize Phoenix from Gladiator.

I guess it's just what the "in" crowd was wearing in '95.
Did they give Kidman a Lewinsky-do? No, I guess this movie predates the scandal by a few years.

The story is simple enough: Suzanne is a small-town girl who is very ambitious. She hooks up and marries Larry (Dillon), which is fine because he has a little money and doesn’t get in her way. She cheats on him on her honeymoon because, somehow, having sex with George Segal will help her career. (In fairness, it probably has helped someone’s career at some point.)

She goes back to her small town to dominate the local cable access station, which doesn’t account for much until she lights on doing a “youth of today” piece featuring Jimmy (Phoenix), Russell (Case Affleck, whom the kids also didn’t recognize) and Lydia (Allsion Foland, who launched a 15-year career with this lucky break). Suzanne quickly lights on how easy it would be to manipulate them all, and she does.

It's just bizarre.
This dance scene is one of the many moments you realize how profoundly dumb the people you’re dealing with are.

It’s funny. But it’s funny in a dark way. Which people don’t generally like. Completely lost on the kids was the social relevance of the whole thing: This was just post Amy Fisher/OJ Simpson trial when one could suddenly become incredibly famous simply by being awful enough to fill some air time. The appalling cultural reaction to this—not so appalling that it curbed it in any way, mind you—is now barely a dull murmur in a world of Kardashians.

It’s okay. For my money, a really good black comedy has to have an unhappy or a  happy ending that’s all wrong, like Tim Robbins’ fate in The Player or Peter Finch’s in Network or the world’s in Dr. Strangelove. In this movie, justice is ultimately served, and while it’s kind of a funny gag, it feels sorta like it doesn’t fit.

I wouldn’t recommend it to many people.

Even if she is Nicole Kidman. Especially if she's Nicole Kidman.
Sometimes ya gotta listen to what mom and sis have to say about your girlfriends.

 

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