When Meryl Streep was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award at last night’s Golden Globe Awards, producers played a montage showcasing the actress’s many great characters. There was her Oscar-winning turn as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, her star-making role as a mother fighting for custody in Kramer vs. Kramer — and then there was her performance as a bitter, aging actress who makes a deal with the devil to stay forever young in Death Becomes Her. That 1992 black comedy may not be Streep’s biggest hit or most acclaimed role, but it was the one that immediately started trending on social media last night. After 25 years, Death Becomes Her is having a moment.
Watch a trailer for ‘Death Becomes Her:’
Directed by Robert Zemeckis in between Back to the Future Part III and Forrest Gump, Death Becomes Her is a broad horror-comedy about two middle-aged frenemies — actress Madeline Ashton (Streep) and author Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) — whose rivalry comes to a head when they discover a secret potion that will restore their youth and beauty. Revitalized, the two women fight for the love of the same man (Bruce Willis) and make a shocking discovery: Their new bodies cannot be killed, even if they’re mangled or mutilated. The film’s most memorable scenes (both unfortunately spoiled by the poster) involve Madeline surviving a broken neck and Helen taking a shotgun blast. In the end, Madeline and Helen get their karmic reward: an eternity of patching each other’s wounds.
Watch Meryl Streep with a broken neck in ‘Death Becomes Her:’
Death Becomes Her received mostly perplexed reviews in 1992 — the New York Times called it “wildly uneven,” Variety said it “yields far more strange fascination than outright laughs” — but was a modest box office hit. Where it did succeed was its ahead-of-the-curve visual effects, which received an Oscar. Streep was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (which may explain why the film was so prominent in that Globes montage).
It’s likely that Death Becomes Her has more fans now than it did when it was first released. The morbid comedy has become a cult classic, thanks in large part to gay audiences who have embraced its camp sensibility and old-Hollywood-Gothic style. (Zemeckis’ film owes a lot to the 1960s Bette Davis movies Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte.) In recent years, the film has been screened at pride festivals and inspired a challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as a celebrity drag queen photo shoot.
In the internet age, the comedy also benefits from being endlessly gif-able. And with Streep being such an icon these days, it’s fun to look back and watch her embrace such a ridiculous role, self-inflating boobs and all. (Fun fact: the special effect in that scene was Streep’s hairstylist.)
Watch Meryl Streep become young again in a scene from ‘Death Becomes Her:’
It’s no wonder that the Golden Globes inspired an outpouring of Death Becomes Her appreciation. Then again, perhaps the Hollywood Foreign Press Association could have made even more of an effort: As comedian Billy Eichner pointed out, the two stars were both in the room last night. “You have MERYL and GOLDIE there and no DEATH BECOMES HER reunion yet?” he tweeted. Oscar producers, pay attention: The world wants to see Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep have another shovel fight.
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