With his hilarious spoof "Die Mommie Die!" Charles Busch takes the melodramatic woman's picture of the '40s and '50s to delirious extremes. It's a lurid tale about the travails of faded pop singer Angela Arden, played deliciously by Busch. Once hailed as "America's Nightingale," a loony sobriquet for a brassy belter, Angela's voice started to go, and now, in 1967, she has been locked in a sour marriage to Sol P. Sussman (Philip Baker Hall), a chronically constipated Stanley Kramer-type producer whose own vogue is fading.
The Sussman abode is a typically fancy Beverly Hills estate, where the battle lines are sharply drawn. On one side is Sol and bitchy daughter Edith (Natasha Lyonne), and on the other is Angela, supported by her son Lance (Stark Sands), freshly expelled from college for having instigated a homosexual orgy among the math faculty. The determinedly ageless Angela is not without consolation: She loves to garden and, better yet, has in tow a gigolo, Tony Parker (Jason Priestley).
Tony clearly has some murky agenda of his own, and he's an equal opportunity seducer. But then everyone chez Sussman is devious, and that includes the maid, Bootsie Carp (Frances Conroy), and not surprisingly the plot ultimately revolves around a dark secret. The key to Busch's Angela is her cast-iron dignity. She may be put-upon, she may be manipulative, she may be phony and self-dramatizing, but she never loses her dignity. (The time her kids slip her some LSD is the exception that proves the rule.) There's an echo of "Sunset Boulevard" in "Die Mommie Die!," but it recalls best all those movies in which their diva heroines pay for their sins with a noble, selfless embrace of their fate.
Under Mark Rucker's direction everyone goes right up to the edge, but Rucker and Busch, in adapting his play for the screen, well understand that deliberate camp requires discipline: The more outrageous the dialogue, the more outrageous the action, the straighter-faced everything must be. That's especially true in a bravura travesty such as this, which sends up the conventions and clichés of all those movies that invite their audiences to wallow in the misery and nastiness of the rich and famous, carrying on and conjuring up all manner of skulduggery while living in the lap of luxury. "Die Mommie Die!" has great fun demolishing pretense and the facade of respectability while never hitting a false note.
'Die Mommie Die!'
MPAA rating: R, for strong sexual content, language and a drug scene
Times guidelines: Not for the kiddies
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
A Sundance Film Series presentation. Director Mark Rucker. Producers Dante Di Loreto, Anthony Edwards, Bill Kenwright. Executive producer Lonny Dubrofsky. Screenplay by Charles Busch, based on his stage play. Cinematographer Kelly Evans. Editor Philip Harrison. Music Dennis McCarthy. Costumes Thomas G. Marquez. Charles Busch's costumes designed by Michael Bottari & Ronald Case. Production designer Joseph B. Tintfass. Set decorator Robert (Sandy) Adams. Running time: 1 Hour, 28 minutes.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times