Beverly Sutphin seems like the perfect happy homemaker. A loving dentist husband Eugene and their two healthy kids Misty and Chip, the Sutphin family is as American as apple pie. The only problem is there seems to be a worm in this particular apple. Beverly lives her life the way she believes everyone should live theirs. It’s those little rules of social etiquette and handy household cleaning tips that make all the difference! Flossing is good for strong healthy teeth. Recycling is good for the environment. Being polite to your neighbor is good for the community. Not following these rules can be bad – very bad in Beverly’s book and, like anyone who’s a little upset, there are times Beverly just wants to kill someone. In fact, maybe she has, which is why the police are going through her garbage and the newspapers are calling her SERIAL MOM. Beverly’s arrest comes as some surprise to Eugene and the kids. But the hilarious and unpredictable comedy that follows will come as no surprise to people who love wholesome family movies-hard-boiled.
Serial Mom 7.0
eyelights: Kathleen Turner. its campy social satire.
eyesores: the ridiculous third act.
“Hey, can I borrow your mother? My Aunt is coming for dinner and she’s always getting on my nerves.”
I always like John Waters whenever I get to hear him speak. Whether it be in his one man show, ‘This Filthy World‘ or in documentaries such as ‘This Film is Not Yet Rated‘, ‘Fabulous!‘ or ‘Midnight Movies‘, he always speaks intelligently and dynamically about everything. Plus he’s got an outré sense of humour that I find appealing.
This doesn’t transfer to his motion pictures, however. Although I have to admit that I’ve only seen three of his movies, and the more mainstream ones at that, I can’t say that his works have appealed to me in any significant way – thus far. ‘Hairspray’ is good but it didn’t grip me in any way, and ‘Pecker’ left me wanting.
And then there’s ‘Serial Mom’.
‘Serial Mom’ tells the story of a June Cleaver-type mother of two who tries to maintain a wholesome family life in a modern ’90s setting. Underneath the veneer, however, lies a psychopath who secretly harasses neighbours and harbours violent thoughts – thoughts that gradually turn into action over time.
The picture is a commentary on North American social mores and the gulf between the so-called “American Dream” and modern reality. In ‘Serial Mom’, Waters takes stabs at puritanism, religion, the death penalty, media culture, recycling, and a host of other topics, which he pillories in hilarious but over-the-top ways.
I first saw ‘Serial Mom’ on home video back in the day, either in 1994 or 1995, just because of Kathleen Turner, the titular “Serial Mom”; I had loved her in ‘The War of the Roses‘ and paid attention to any new release she was in. I loved the picture premise, but expected more laughs; I was terribly disappointed with it.
Between this and ‘V.I. Warshawski’ I lost interest in Turner.
However, since the reverse is true of Waters, I decided that I should revisit the picture, now twenty years later, imagining that my tastes have broadened (but not necessarily improved) over time. I figured that there might be a chance that I’d reassess it, maybe even enjoy it. Plus which Mother’s Day was coming.
It was a good gamble: I much preferred ‘Serial Mom’ this time around, particularly the satirical first act, which finds Beverly Sutphin slowly unraveling, and the campy second one, which has her on an outrageous rampage through suburbia righting wrongs she feels have been committed – such as being rude or not recycling.
By the third act, which mostly takes place in court, with Sutphin defending herself, and becoming a media sensation, the humour is too patently absurd for me; it’s so over-the-top that it crosses over from satire to buffoonery. ‘Serial Mom’ suffers greatly from this misstep; I would easily have rated it a 7.5 up until that point.
But it remains a very entertaining picture nonetheless: from Turner’s performance, to Mathew Lillard’s first screen appearance, to the cameos, to a concert performance by L7 (under the guise of Camel Lips), to the brusque social commentary, to the imaginatively cartoony death sequences, ‘Serial Mom’ certainly delivers.
It makes me wonder if I should consider watching John Waters’ oeuvre. The early stuff has always repelled me, grotesque as it appears to be (from the footage I’ve seen in various documentaries), so maybe I should watch his most recent fare first. I’ve been considering ‘Cry-Baby’ for a while now… maybe it’s time?
But… do I dare?
Date of viewing: April 12, 2015