Angela Arden -- who in her prime could command a bare stage, warbling with busty gusto on gorgeous gams, jewels in her hair, gloves up her arms, gown off her shoulders -- is washed up.
And that's just for starters. She has a petulant slutty daughter; an impishly twisted son who got kicked out of college for shagging the entire math department -- all men, all at once; a failed young ambisextrous TV actor (Jason Priestley) as a lover; and an officious movie producer/husband, Sol Sussman (Philip Baker Hall), who punishes her adultery by refusing a divorce and imprisoning her credit cards.
So when Angela can't tolerate Sol's oppression any more, she turns his chronic constipation against him by dipping his hot-dog sized suppository in arsenic-laced milk and -- oh, irony! -- killing the abusive old asshole. Just imagine her surprise when she learns that Sol left the bulk of his estate to Bootsie (Frances Conroy), the household's devoted, Scripture-spouting maid.
Directed by Mark Rucker and written by Charles Busch, who plays Angela, Die, Mommie, Die is a special little movie: Like the fringe-indie farce Girls Will Be Girls, it has a drag heart in a camp body; and like the Oscar-nominated mainstream indie Far from Heaven, it deconstructs (small "d") the conventions and subtexts of mid-century Hollywood melodrama and the "women's picture."
Busch adapted his stage play for this screen version and re-creates Angela without, of course, winking to let us "know" he's a man. Not that we need to be told. He's not exactly un-feminine as Angela -- not, say, in the way Bea Arthur was unfeminine as, say, Maude -- but you wouldn't exactly call him a dish. In fact, Busch's makeup as Angela hardly makes her look old enough to be so far past her prime and ready for a Catskills gig. Is this vanity on the actor's part, or another one of his jokes that we simply must accept in the spirit of the piece?
For a thorough interpretation of Die, Mommie, Die, please read Susan Sontag's seminal 1964 essay "Notes on Camp." ("The ultimate Camp statement: it's good because it's awful" -- Sontag.) Or just have a good stiff whisky sour, call up the guys, and go see the damned movie. And by the way, there's a plot twist or five at the end, so stock up on Tootsie Rolls and tissues.
Rucker keeps his deliberately (yet gently) hammy actors on a retractable leash, and when they stray too far he usually reacts quickly enough to pull them back before they start sniffing the wrong behind. You can reference Busch's Angela against all the usual suspects: Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Ethel Merman, Barbara Stanwyck, that sort of thing. Think of it as John Waters Very Lite, colorfully made and funny enough, I suppose.