On Serial Mom

Featuring Matthew Lillard (Wing Commander, Scream, She’s All That), Justin Whalin (Scream), and Suzanne Somers (Step by Step), Serial Mom is a dark comedy directed by John Waters (Hairspray).

According to the NewNextNow article, “John Waters Reveals Why He Never Made Another Movie With Kathleen Turner After “Serial Mom”“:

Just in time for Mother’s Day, John Waters’ 1994 cult classic Serial Mom is getting a deluxe Blu-ray treatment. We spoke with the Pope of Trash about the making of the film, the possibility of a Serial Mom series, and whether he’d ever work with Kathleen Turner again.

It was nice seeing you on-screen in Feud. I loved your cameo.

Thank you! I got to play [director] William Castle, finally. I was so touched that Terry Castle wrote me how proud she was of me playing her dad.

And in a full circle moment, there’s a scene in Serial Mom where the teens are watching [William Castle’s] Straight-Jacket.

I know—I forgot that! Isn’t that amazing?

You shot Serial Mom in Towson, Maryland, where you and Divine grew up. How was it going back two decades later?

It was good to go back to Towson High, where the teacher [in the movie] gets run over, because that’s where Divine went to high school. He got beat up every day and had to have the police escort him home. But Divine was not outrageous at all in high school. He was kind of a nerd—but Towson has apologized for that. They were lovely to let us film there. Can you imagine a school letting us run over your teacher? And the kids were there during filming! It was pretty liberal.

Do you think the concept of a homicidal housewife is as outrageous today?

I think it maybe even makes more sense now when you watch it, because at the time people thought it was true. They really believed it because I worked hard to make look like it. My favorite is the end when it says: “Beverly Sutphin refused to cooperate with the making of this film.” That makes people think it really is true. “Where is she today?” people ask me.

There are stories this insane in the press all the time—and with today’s political correctness that’s gotten so extreme I think some college students would root for Serial Mom thinking: “You deserve to die if you don’t recycle.”

Is there a recent high-profile trial you wish you’d sat in on?

Well, I can’t go to trials anymore because people recognize me. I also believe that if the jury hated me or my films they would take it out on the defendant, which I don’t think is fair. I’d be like Suzanne Somers [at the end of Serial Mom] because the last time I went people were asking for autographs. They thought I was making a movie about it, which I wasn’t.

I wish I could have gone to the Boston Bomber trial because I’m interested in that lawyer, Judy Clarke. She does all of the worst cases and never talks to the press. She is the only person I wish I was. The only two people left I want to meet are Judy Clarke and Eminem—and neither have any desire to meet me.

Why do you want to meet Eminem?

I’m a fan!

You and Kathleen Turner still do events together and seem to really like each another. Why did you never do another movie together?

Well, because I only made a couple movies afterwards. And with star names, the studios want you to get a new one each time. The only time that wasn’t going to happen was when Johnny Knoxville was going to play the father in Fruitcake, the movie I didn’t make. I would work with Kathleen again in a minute, I think she’s a wonderful actress. I go to see all of her theater, I’ve seen everything she’s done. I’m a big fan and we’re still friends.

What is happening with Fruitcake?

Nothing! I doubt it’s going to happen now. I mean it could, I still have meetings about it every once in a while. I’ve been pregnant with that for awhile. It’s the only time I’ve been pro-life. I don’t want an abortion, I want an anal birth. Now that would be video-on-demand.

After the Hairspray and Cry-Baby musicals was there ever talk of a Serial Mom musical?

No. I always wanted to do Serial Mom as a TV series where she killed once a month and it dealt with political correctness the three weeks before each murder. I think it would make a good series. Maybe Kathleen could come back—we could call it Serial Grandmom.

In the movie, Beverly is enraged by people who have poor manners. Are there any etiquette rules you want to retire?

No! I’d like to kill people for how they dress on airplanes. What slobs people are—it’s shocking to me! And I don’t care what anyone says, you still can’t wear white after Labor Day. It’s a sign of poor upbringing. I don’t mean “poor” money-wise, I mean in: “Didn’t your mother tell you?”

My mother was Serial Mom in a way: She said it was my best movie—because, I think, she identified with it. Once when I was young there was something on television about a mine disaster and the miners were trapped inside. All of their wives were crying on TV and some of them had their hair in curlers and my mother goes: “Look at her hair” [laughs]. I even put that line in the movie.

Mother’s Day is coming up. What does someone need to do if they wanted to throw a Serial Mom Mother’s Day party?

I think you would do things that would bait Beverly, like wear white shoes and chew gum, or using poor English. Just have bad manners and dress like your mother. That’s the first thing Kathleen said the first day she was in the full costume and hair: “Oh, my God, I’m my mother.”

 

According to The New York Times review:

If you’re going to build a career on bad taste, sooner or later you’ll have to tackle the most sacred icon of all, motherhood. John Waters is just the man to do it, for he sends up only what he deeply adores. In “Serial Mom” he takes to heart the idea that being the All-American mother is enough to drive a woman crazy. What could be more sympathetic?

Kathleen Turner leaps into the most delicious role she has had in years as Beverly Sutphin. She is a Baltimore housewife with perfectly bobbed hair, a sparkling clean kitchen, a dentist husband (Sam Waterston) and two teen-age children with names that seem lifted from “Ozzie and Harriet”: Chip and Misty. But the strain of being a perfect mom is showing, for Beverly has developed a tendency to murder anyone who gets on her nerves.

How dare a teacher suggest that Chip (Matthew Lillard) may need therapy? Beverly responds with normal disbelief, then finds the teacher in the parking lot and runs him down with her car. When Misty (Ricki Lake) is stood up by a handsome date, she will regret crying to her mother, “I wish he were dead.”

Mr. Waters, of course, no longer traffics in the truly vulgar, as he did in early films like “Pink Flamingos” (notorious for its canine scatology). With his recent lighthearted films of 50’s and 60’s adolescence, “Hair spray” and “Crybaby,” he entered the mainstream, where his sense of the tacky fit right in. With “Serial Mom” he concocts a cute suburban satire, a warmly funny movie that even a mother could love.

The movie is milder than its premise makes it sound. Although the story is set in the present, Beverly seems stuck in one of Mr. Waters’s favorite twilight zones: 50’s sitcoms that shaped a generation of dysfunctional families. A detective who questions the Sutphins even points out how remarkably Beverly brings to mind June Cleaver, though he misses a crucial clue about the obscene note sent to their whiny neighbor, Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole). The note is signed with a smiley face. As soon as the detectives and her loving family are out the door, Beverly displays girlish delight at muttering dirty words in an anonymous prank call to Dottie. Beverly is the kind of matron who would profess to be disgusted by a John Waters movie while secretly relishing every cathartic moment.

The film is shaped by Mr. Waters’s flair for capturing the excruciating details of suburban life. An especially nice touch is the way Beverly cheerily sings Barry Manilow’s “Daybreak” while cleaning her house or driving to another murder. Ms. Turner plays the good mother with such sunny conviction that her murderous side seems plausibly self-righteous. And Mr. Waterston, escaping from many earnest roles, shows a flair for understated comedy that works perfectly for the befuddled husband.

Like all Waters films, “Serial Mom” is uneven and often predictable. When the police close in on Beverly while she is riding to church with the whole family, she wonders, “Do you think I need to call a lawyer?” The astute Chip answers, “You need an agent.” Suzanne Somers, in a cameo role, suddenly wants to make a mini-series of Beverly’s life. The media frenzy about the latest mega-star killer is too close to reality to work as satire.

Despite Mr. Waters’s tame approach, there are still some disgusting moments in “Serial Mom,” including a close-up of what looks like a human liver skewered on a fireplace poker. He hasn’t, after all, lost his sense of values. Who would you rather be? he seems to ask. The famous serial mom or the neighbor who, when a favorite ceramic egg has been broken, wails: “It’s Franklin Mint! I collect Franklin Mint!”

One victim rents a video of “Annie,” settles into her easy chair and starts singing along with “Tomorrow.” Legally that doesn’t justify murder. But there are higher esthetic issues involved. They explain why, in the world of John Waters, this serial mom is a pop-culture heroine.

 

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