Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn’s impressive physical comedy — with rubbery, expressive faces and slapstick timing — really make Death Becomes Her. Competing for the affections of plastic surgeon and undertaker Ernest [played by Bruce Willis], Madeline [Streep] and Helen [Hawn] characters ingest a magical elixir that guarantees perfect youth. Unfortunately, the formula does not guarantee perfect invulnerability, so Madeline and Helen prevail upon Ernest to do their heavy-duty make-up and maintenance. Will they tempt Ernest to immortality? Will they be able to keep themselves together [literally]? Who really ends up with immortality in the end?
With dry wit, the script deftly skewers the modern equation of youth with beauty and happiness; Streep and Hawn, masters of zingy delivery, drop bons mots that kept me chuckling. They play their constant goat-getting with such relish that the fact of their misery goes slightly less noticed until the end, when they attend Ernest’s funeral and learn that, through his kindness, charity, sense of humor and good works, as well as his descendants, he has truly reached immortality.
On a vampiric note, I enjoyed Death Becomes Her for its investigation of the flip side of immortality. Madeline and Helen’s physical fragility exemplifies a damning and unexpected consequence of living forever. [I particularly liked Madeline’s confrontation with the medical establishment. Her controversion of all laws of physics drives the examining physician to drink.] Meanwhile, Ernest, who thinks of immortality as boring, lonely and pointless, provides the philosophical argument for a finite lifespan.
[Filed under “vampires” for treatment of immortality.]