movie film review | chris tookey

To Die For

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  To Die For Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.43 /10
Suzanne Stone ........ Nicole Kidman (LONDON FILM CRITICS' AWARD - ACTRESS OF THE YEAR), Larry Maretto ........ Matt Dillon, Jimmy Emmett ......... Joaquin Phoenix
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Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Written by Buck Henry . Based on the book by Joyce Maynard.

Released: 1995
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 107

Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) is a small-town ignoramus determined to sell her soul, if she has one, to network television. "I always knew who I was and who I wanted to be," she tells the camera with the cheery self-confidence of a Miss World contestant who has taken the precaution of sleeping with all the judges. She will stop at nothing in pursuit of upward mobility - on the grounds, presumably, that she who dares, Winfreys. On her honeymoon, she even commits adultery with a stoat-like media executive (George Segal, credibly creepy).
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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She realises - perfectly accurately - that abysmal ignorance, an IQ in double figures, and worthless, second-hand opinions are considerable assets in today's media. Besides, she has one or two original pet theories of her own - for example, that Gorbachev could still be in power if he had only had that unsightly birthmark removed from the top of his head.

Soon she is a TV presenter with her very own "weather centre" - actually, a dingy corner of the studio at a local cable TV station - and she is making a cynically heartfelt documentary about teenagers in turmoil.

There is just one problem. Her husband Larry (Matt Dillon) wants to settle down and have children. So she concocts a plot to get him out of the way - permanently.

To Die For was a timely satire on Television and its parasites. For the media pundit of the Sixties, Marshall McLuhan, the medium was the message. For Suzanne Stone, this movie's fictitious media pundit of the Nineties, the medium is an ego-massage.

Buck Henry's screenplay has many hilarious moments, though it does beg a few questions. It is hard to understand why a girl like Suzanne would marry a plodder like Larry in the first place. The pace of her sexual corruption seems rather too sudden. And there isn't sufficient reason for her to murder her husband, rather than just divorce him.

The central idea - to show how the quest for celebrity is a modern disease - is fine; but even slow-witted members of the audience will have understood the diagnosis within 20 minutes. And the moral dice are so loaded against Suzanne that it's hard not to feel a twinge of uncalled-for sympathy. Why shouldn't an attractive, none-too-brainy woman pursue a career in broadcasting? Hollywood's current enthusiasm for motherhood as the only suitable career for a woman is fast becoming a sinister obsession. One reason the film won't be a big success is that its misogyny eventually becomes a little depressing.

Even so, the film contains Henry's sharpest dialogue since The Graduate. (He also turns in an enjoyable cameo as a despairing schoolteacher.) A veteran of TV as well as film, Henry skilfully exposes the way so many documentary-makers trick confidences out of people, with the justification that in doing so they are making "great TV" or, more pretentiously, "helping to create a global community".

This is also the most entertaining film yet from director Gus van Sant - and soomething of a surprise, since he showed no flair for comedy in his last effort, the execrable Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Illeana Douglas gets some of the biggest laughs as Larry's plain-speaking sister, suspicious of Suzanne from the start. Three younger actors (Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck and Alison Folland) are horribly believable as the braindead teenagers whom Suzanne adopts, corrupts and brutally ditches

But, most of all, this is a triumph for Nicole Kidman. Hitherto best known for being Mrs Tom Cruise, she proves here that she is a wonderfully accomplished and intelligent comedienne. It's a wickedly accurate portrayal, with a gummy smile borrowed from Meg Ryan, the squeaky-clean enthusiasm of a high-school cheerleader, and the morals of a Hollywood Boulevard hooker - the funniest female performance this year.

Paradoxically, Kidman's character is so hideously attractive that it undermines the movie - it's impossible to understand why she isn't more successful.

The big problem with satire is that reality has a way of overtaking it - and To Die For is no exception. It was released in Britain in the week that Anthea Turner became the second-highest paid presenter on British television, Mariella Frostrup inexplicably began a second series as a TV interviewer, and Elizabeth Hurley continued her career as the best-known actress in Britain without ever having made a decent film. As I wrote then, Suzanne might have been better advised to abandon her hick cable station, divorce her husband, and simply cross the Atlantic.

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