Serial Mom (1994)

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Be prepared people, I have been watching a lot of John Waters, so you will be seeing a lot of reviews of his films here in the near future. 

Serial Mom – the title is enough for you to know that this is no normal film. It isn’t. Serial Mom is a dark, twisted, hilarious comedy by John Waters that symbolizes the filmmaker’s transition from gritty cult director to Hollywood’s Lost Boy – the guy who was shunned and then when his genius was put on display in later years, Movie Land looked back in retrospect and regretted their actions. Some can say Hairspray was his breakout film into the mainstream, but as great and iconic as that was, Serial Mom seems to me to be his first real Hollywood film, and its not even vaguely Hollywood.

One of my favorite genres of film are 1990s suburban comedies – they are warm, funny and have the sensibilities of the colorful and quirky 1980s teen cinema, mixed with the deadpan humor of the 1990s Generation X movement. After that, mainstream comedies became about toilet humor and inappropriate jokes. (Yes, I just used the word “mainstream” in relation to a John Waters film. I must definitely be going crazy, or I may be onto something here.) They don’t come warmer and more suburban than Serial Mom, which takes the old archetype of the sweet, loving suburban housewife, and making her a cold, cruel killer. It is a scenario that you really will only find in pulp crime novels and satirical short stories, which is where I suspect Waters got the idea to do such a film – then again, we could draw comparisons between this and Waters’ other suburban masterpiece, Polyester.

Two words – Kathleen Turner. Has there ever been an actress more dedicated to a role as Turner was here? On one hand, she was warm, sweet and loving, and on the other hand she was cold, clinical and damn insane. Watching her chew the scenery like an unstoppable machine was a true delight, and I think every flaw of this film is excused because of the pure fact that Kathleen Turner did such an amazing job in the lead role. I could talk about what a great job the supporting cast did – Mink Stole, Sam Waterston, Matthew Lillard – but that would just waste time. You should see this film purely because of Kathleen Turner. There is no other reason, unless you are an afficionado of Faberge Eggs. Then there is another reason.

Some people who prefer Waters’ earlier films look unfavorably on Serial Mom, because they feel Waters sold out and went with something mainstream. I think very differently – the outrageous, shocking heart of Waters’ earlier films still remain very much in Serial Mom, just dressed up a little and with some bigger names delivering the same spicy dialouge. The heart and soul of John Waters still very much remains in Serial Mom, just in a fancier wrapping.

If the idea of a brilliantly satirical dark comedy where you can see Kathleen Turner (who really is a great actress and I wish her career didn’t fizzle out) beating poor people with legs of lamb and butcher’s knives isn’t your thing, then avoid Serial Mom. But if you do want the above, along with some very funny moments and sizzling satire, then watch this at all costs.

 

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