Imagine you could become immortal. You would never worry about ageing or death — you would stay young and beautiful forever, and you would be in good company. The only catch is that after ten years, you would have to "disappear" in order to uphold The Masquerade. Now imagine that your biggest romantic rival has already taken this step.Oh, and a warning: you will need to take very good care of your body, because you will be using it for a very long time...Death Becomes Her is a 1992 dark comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep and Bruce Willis. It won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
This movie contains examples of:
Absurdly Sharp Claws: In one scene Meryl Streep's character leaves scratch-marks on a marble column.
Audible Gleam: Of sorts. Madeline's breasts lift and set with audible pops.
An Aesop: At the end, no one knows who Ernest Menville was before he turned 50. He became famous, successful and found true love after 50.
The Alcoholic: Ernest has become one, and now can no longer use his cosmetic surgery skills on living patients. It's implied his bad marriage is to blame.
For Madeline: "Cheap!" Madeline had already had the upper hand on Ernest — had she ignored his "Cheap!" remark, she'd have never fallen down the stairs.
Betty and Veronica: Helen, a shy, timid Betty in the beginning of the movie, is desperately afraid her fiancé Ernest will fall for Madeline, her childhood friend, who is a flashy actress and definite Veronica. Depending on how you define the roles, though, they become less distinct after the first fifteen minutes of the movie.
Black Comedy: Damn straight. Poor Helen gets the worst of it. Loses men to Madeline, becomes so depressed and downtrodden that she is institutionalized and obsessed with revenge on a woman for shit that started during high school and gets murdered by having a hole blown through most of her body... and for what? So she can spend eternity as a disembodied head. Someone give that girl a time machine so she can erase her own birth from ever happening.
Blessed with Suck: Shortly after finding out about each other's immortality, Helen and Madeline try to kill each other. They are stuck in their broken, battered corpses for (it is implied) eternity. They use undertakers' techniques just to keep themselves looking and moving like real people — but eventually their bodies simply fall apart.
Chekhov's Gun: Ernest is seen trying to throw scalpels at a dartboard early in the film. He does poorly, presumably due to the years of alcoholism giving him shaky hands. Later on, after having one of his hands rejuvenated to display the powers of the potion, he throws a knife with perfect accuracy just when he needs to.
Crapsack World: Debatable: On one hand, appearance is everything and undeath is preferable to ageing. On the other hand, Ernest achieved recognition and popularity in his twilight years, and achieved immortality that way.
Did You Get a New Haircut?: Played straight. After Madeline has drunk a potion giving her eternal youth and beauty, her husband Ernest asks, "Change your hair?"
Earn Your Happy Ending: We find out that after Ernest escaped, he managed to find happiness in the following 37 years and truly atoned for his misdeeds. He found love, had children, and devoted his time to helping people realize that getting older was not the end of the world and opened an AA chapter. When he does die, Madeline and Helen arrive at his funeral dressed all in black and mock most of Ernest's eulogy, even though the time of them are badly painted and put together corpses at this point.
Elvis Has Left the Planet / Elvis Lives: The King is one of several famous people who took the immortality potion and faked his own death. He makes appearances from time to time to grab a few headlines.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Lisle and company are genuinely puzzled when Ernest refuses the potion. They are too self-centered and shallow to care about the reasons he has for not wanting to be immortal.
Fanservice: Lisle. And her boyfriends/bodyguards. "Keep your ass handy."
Michelle Johnson in one scene, before her boss shows up to refer Mad to Lisle.
Fat Suit. Hawn donned one for a segment. She never let her children see her wearing it, reportedly, because it scared them.
Femme Fatale: Both Madeline and Helen, but Helen really plays it up.
Helen: You're a powerful sexual being, Ernest.
Ernest: I am?
Helen: Yes, you are. If I never told you before, it was because I wasn't the sort of girl who could say the word "sexual" without blushing. Well I can now. Sexual... sensual... sexy... sex... sex... sex...
Their colorschemes are switched in Helen's fantasy of killing Madeline (and in the picture), and from Lisle's (who wears both colors; a dark red shawl and a white "bathrobe") party onwards they're both Women in Black.
Soft Water: Ernest's swan dive off the top of a huge mansion, through a stained-glass skylight and into an indoor pool leaves him with only a nasty-looking cut on his arm. He hits the basically flat skylight flat on his back which would minimize immediate cuts and the window breaking would reduce the force of that impact considerably while still slowing down his speed enough to keep the water from killing him on second impact.
In the first draft, Ernest was supposed to die in the fall, with the movie ending at his funeral.
Spiritual Successor: Bears some thematic elements with the 1960 B-horror movie The Leech Woman. A bitter woman, also trapped in a loveless marriage with a selfish and superficial doctor, is given the secret to eternal youth by a mysterious woman named Malla. The final act has her using her newly acquired good looks to try stealing a pretty young rival's beau. In both films, the secret comes at a price that makes both female leads become desperate. This film also used make-up effects to make star Coleen Gray seem older than she actually is at the beginning of the movie.
Springtime for Hitler: Although Madeline's musical performance is mostly hated, it is precisely then that Ernest falls in love with her.
Staircase Tumble: Madeline falls down a staircase twice. The first time, Ernest finally snaps when she insults him as he hesitates to stop her from falling, and he gives her the final push; she breaks her neck on the way down. The second time, it is Helen who is teetering at the top of a staircase while Madeline simply smiles maliciously - until Helen drags her down as well. Ernest almost goes down at one point as well, after being hit over the head with a vase.
Stalker Shrine: Helen Sharp has one of her nemesis and rival Madeline Ashton.
The doctor at the hospital has a kind of No Sell reaction to this, getting slightly flustered but dealing with it very well, then calmly stepping outside... to have a heart attack. Very much justified and Truth in Television as doctors are taught to keep focussed in certain situations.
The Unfair Sex: Very, very much averted. Ernest is depicted as a Nice Guy and Woobie no matter what he does whether its dumping his fiance for her friend or trying to murder his - admittedly very bitchy - wife while all the women in the film are thoroughly irredeemable.
The Vamp: Lisle and, to a lesser extent, Madeline and - post makeover - Helen
Waking Up at the Morgue: Justified here, because nobody could survive a tumble down a flight of marble stairs and a twisted-around head... and technically, she didn't.
Walking Out on the Show: In the film's opening scene, Madeline is starring in Songbird!, a musical adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth with copious amounts of Stylistic Suck. Audience members are leaving in droves, and most of the ones who are staying are only doing so because they have fallen asleep. Ernest is the only person who is enraptured by the performance, to Helen's alarm.