Buy To Die For
To Die For
With record high temperatures across the country, it's been a steamy summer. You can expect temperatures to rise even higher with this week's premier of the much-anticipated erotic thriller Eyes Wide Shut starring husband and wife team Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The movie may be a shocker for those who are not familiar with the talents of Nicole Kidman, but she has proven her acting ability in other movies, most notably this week's WaffleMovies.com selection, To Die For.
To Die For is a sarcastic, biting indictment of our media driven society that thrills and frightens for all of its 103 minutes. Starting with its stunning and intriguing opening sequence and ending with a surprise twist that will leave you cheering, director Gus Van Sant takes us on a wild ride as the shallow, ambitious and slightly disturbed Suzanne (Kidman) seeks fame and fortune in the broadcast industry. Remember to keep your eyes wide open.
The movie begins with Suzanne's pursuit of local heart-throb/restaurateur/musician Larry (Matt Dillon). Even though his sister, Janice (Illeana Douglas) has a bad feeling about Suzanne, Larry is taken with her beauty and the fact that she is not like the neighborhood girls. He believes she is, "pure, delicate and innocent." This is an opinion that will quickly change later in the movie.
Once she has married Larry, Suzanne quickly sets out to conquer broadcasting and mold Larry into the perfect husband. After her visit to a broadcasters' convention in Florida, we learn that Suzanne has great ambition to become a television personality, but seemingly no education or talent. Mimicking the women stars she idolizes, Suzanne sets out and obtains a job as the girl Friday at a local television station. She quickly parlays that job into a position as the station's on-air weather personality. However, she is not satisfied.
In an effort to become a legitimate newsperson, Suzanne embarks on a project she calls, "Teens Speak Out", a documentary about the views and life of modern day teens. Volunteering to be in the piece are three outcast school chums; tomboy Lydia (Alison Folland), juvenile delinquent Russell (Casey Affleck) and stoner Jimmy (Joachim Phoenix). None of the three truly believe in the project, but the boys find Suzanne to be attractive and Lydia looks to her as a role model because she appears to be the type of beautiful, dignified woman that Lydia wishes she could be.
Suzanne's ambition puts a great strain on her marriage as Larry wishes to have a more traditional wife. With her master plan deteriorating, Suzanne takes drastic action to propel her career and remove the marriage obstacle.
The movie brilliantly mixes action with mock interviews of the key characters. This method allows us to follow the plot as well understand each character's motivations and feelings. It also sets up a classic conflict between the beautiful, ambitious Suzanne and the plain, caring and intelligent Janice. Kidman and Douglas engage in some of the best silent acting you can see on the screen. You will be greatly entertained watching each of them react to the other without any dialogue.
The movie is a tour de force for Kidman. She is able to vamp it up and play the character with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but without becoming campy. Her character is representative of America's obsession with the media as she proudly states, "you're not anybody in America if you are not on TV." She deftly portrays Suzanne's manipulative abilities, sexiness and dementia. After seeing the movie, I am sure you will understand why she was awarded the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy in 1996. Why wasn't she nominated for an Oscar? Only the Academy knows.
The other actress who deserves special recognition is Illeana Douglas. She is the perfect foil for Kidman and holds her own against the mega-star. Douglas reflects the opinions that the audience feels during the movie. Her reactions to Suzanne's outrageous statements and manipulative ploys are perfect.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is not as solid. Matt Dillon is great as lovable lug Larry, but the performance of the three teens seems a little flat and predictable. Alison Folland has some good scenes, but comes off as whiny and overly naïve in others. While Joachim Phoenix has gotten a great deal of praise for his turn as Jimmy, I found his performance stereotypical and too reminiscent of Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. There, Penn was brilliant in a comedic role, but Phoenix is in a drama and takes it too far.
The teaming of director Van Sant and writer Buck Henry pays off. Van Sant makes some inspired decisions. He picks the best times to intersplice background footage with the current action and uses well timed close ups to catch the reactions of each character. Remember to pay close attention to one of the later scenes when the media mobs Suzanne's house. Through the blinding light of a news camera, we are shown the naked ambition of Suzanne.
Buck Henry proves he is still one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood. Instead of providing a cynical, simplistic, preachy movie about the evils of modern celebrity and the media, Henry gives us a more comedic indictment of the fame seekers, rather than the enablers. The only weekness in the plot is Suzanne's motivation for marrying Larry. He can't help her career, yet every other action taken by the character is career driven.
If Eyes Wide Shut is sold out, get your Nicole Kidman fix by renting To Die For.
To Die For: B+
Director: Gus Van Sant
Based on the book by: Joyce Maynard
Screenplay by: Buck Henry
Music by: Danny Elfman
Nicole Kidman Suzanne
Matt Dillon .. Larry
Illeana Douglas .Janice
Joachim Phoenix .. Jimmy
Casey Affleck .. Russell
Alison Folland .. Lydia
Wayne Knight .. Ed
Holland Taylor ..Carol Stone
Dan Hedaya ..Joe
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