‘ In Death Becomes Her, Meryl
Streep discovers the pitfalls of immortality. Alan Morrison goes in search of the elixir of life with the Oscar winner.
To say that Meryl Streep’s latest role will turn heads is a bit of an understatement. After a spectacular tumble down an ornate stairway, the two-time Oscar winner — always the professional — gets up and finishes the scene with her neck set at a disconcerting 180—degree twist. And as if that wasn’t strange enough, ten minutes later Goldie Hawn joins her with a gunshot wound in her stomach the size of the Channel Tunnel. Such are the drawbacks of immortality in Robert Zemeckis’ $40 million black comedy Death Becomes Her.
Streep plays Madeline Ashton, an overly ambitious, image-conscious actress who marries the plastic surgeon fiance (Bruce Willis) of her good friend and better enemy Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn). When Madeline’s career and looks begin to take a downward turn, she resorts to any means necessary to maintain a youthful appearance, even going as far as visiting the enigmatic Lisle von Rhumans (Isabella Rossellini), who offers her the secret of eternal life. But not being able to die has its pitfalls, as ‘Mad’ and ‘Hell’ (as the girls affectionately scream at each other) soon discover.
Death Becomes Her takes America’s obsession with cosmetic vanity to outrageous extremes. The ﬁlm has the mood and look of an adult Addams Family and is pepped up by state-of-the-art special effects, biting one-liners from three stars obviously having the time of their lives and a touch of cartoon violence supervised by the man who brought the world the Back To The Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Despite the darkly comic morality, however, it soon descends into a series of over-the-top bitchy battles, leaving the movie with a hole at its core that is as empty as the computer-generated gap in Hawn’s intestines.
‘My favourite stuff in the movie doesn’t have anything to do with the special effects,’ argues Streep. ‘It’s a drag, all that stuff, and it was nice to take the make-up off at the end of the day. It was also an act of extreme bravery to go on screen with Isabella Rossellini in make-up that makes me look 54— and not a good, happy 54, but a really unbelievably desperate, soaking wet middle age.‘
Streep is, of course, a mere 43-year-old sprightly mother of four. Her co-star Hawn — with whom she almost made Thelma & Louise — is 46. So perhaps they know better than most the pressures of having to keep looking good in the shallow, back-stabbing world of Hollywood. For Streep, frequently hailed as the best actress of her generation, the role of the
Lfading star who treats cosmetic surgery as her daily
“The List 4- 17 December 1992
l g l
Death Becomes Her: ‘takes America’s obsession with j cosmetic vanity to outrageous extremes'
bread holds more than a hint of satire on her contemporaries.
‘People do this because they think their husband will love them more,’ she explains, ‘because they don’t feel valuable unless they look happy all the time so they pull up their faces. I don’t say that I would never do it for any ofthose reasons . . . if I felt that I had to keep working. . . but I can’t say I’d be happy to do it. I used to think that I‘d want to change my nose and make it a little shorter and fatter, but then people do this and they just end up looking like a lot of other people. I think I’m beyond the part ofthe girlfriend now, but those parts are not always the most wonderful ones either. I’m sure my choices are limited by my age and increasingly I won’t have the opportunities that I may have had in my early thirties, but all these rules are meant to be tested and broken.‘
‘I’m sure my choices are limited by my age
and increasingly I won’t have the
opportunities that I may have had in my 1
early thirties, but all these rules are meant to be tested and broken.’
Death Becomes Her marks Streep’s fourth consecutive comedy role, following a career that gained her twin Academy Awards for Sophie’s Choice and Kramer vs. Kramer and another seven nominations. Nevertheless, she has often been accused of being less an actress than a machine that only needs to be fitted with a new accent microchip.
‘I get so much criticism for it,’ she admits. ‘Cumulatively it makes me feel reticent, but if
i there was a good part, I’m not going to turn it
down because some jerk is going to say “Hah! Another accent!” I wouldn‘t not have done Sophie’s Choice because she didn‘t talk like someone from New Jersey. Every criticism disturbs me, but on the other side I have a lot of compensatory joys, so it‘s not killing me.‘
Two years ago. Streep gained some Hollywood notoriety when she made a twenty-minute speech to an actors‘ union conference condemning the film industry‘s second-rate treatment ofits female membership. ‘I still think it‘s appalling that from the age of ten until people are in their eighties, boys make more than girls for commercials and voice-overs and everything.‘ she sighs. ‘But it wasn‘t just a money issue for me: I was dismayed at
e‘ ’ the fact that there were so few roles for women as
well as the fact that, when they got them. they weren‘t paid so much to do them. This year has
5 1 been good, and I think itwill make iteasierto -\ finance pictures with women in them because A l League Of Their Own and Fried Green Tomatoes i made a lot of money. I‘m wildly over—compensated for what I do. However, it is unequal, so even a . : though I’m overpaid, the men are overpaid more.’ . i Death Becomes Her opens in Scotland on Friday 4 : December.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) Sophie's Choice (1982)
; Silkwood (1983)
3 Out olAlrica (1985)
THE FILMS 0F MERYL STREEP
The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Seduction oi Joe Tynan (1979) Kramervs. Kramer (1979)
Still oi the Night (1982)
Falling in Love (1984) Plenty (1985)
A Cry in the Dark (1988) She-Devil (1989)
Postcards from the Edge (1990) Defending Your Lite (1991)
Death Becomes Her (1992)