1994 Directed by John Waters. Starring Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Justin Whalin, Mink Stole, Traci Lords, Patricia Hearst.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 22, 1994
The resurrection of Ms. Turner, via the man who gave us Divine and dogshit. Who would have thought? Exactly what the title implies, Serial Mom is Waters' take on both America's infatuation with serial killers and the media's seeming inability to report any murderous scoop without resorting to tabloid techniques. Turner is Beverly Sutphin, a suburban Baltimore all-American mom with an endless smile and a penchant for murdering those people who stand in her way (sometimes they're not even standing in her way; sometimes they're just… standing there). With a nuclear family made up of hubby Waterston, daughter Lake, and son Lillard (in a typical Waters touch, he's a gorehound -- a full set of vintage Aurora monster model kits deck his bedside wall and Herschell Gordon Lewis posters adorn his room). It's all so perfect that Waters has a great chance to turn it all upside down and disembowel this ever so happy family, but something's missing here. Waters has never been one for thorough character backgrounds, but it's downright annoying to be given absolutely no explanation for Mrs. Sutphin's sudden, drastic behavior. One minute she's Mom incarnate, and the next she's placing obscene phone calls to Mink Stole and running down her son's math teacher in the high school parking lot. Perhaps Waters reasoned that the sheer outrageousness of the situation overrode the audience's need for solid characterization, but either way, it makes you wonder “why?” Waters' regulars Lords, Hearst, and others are here, but they're mostly relegated to sideline roles (none have since been used as thoroughly as they were in Waters' Cry-Baby four years ago). The big question, is it funny? Well, yes, and no. Waters is holding back here, sticking to thematic ground that's been covered before and better. The gags are quick and barbed, but the wire seems blunted by the essentially one-note gag storyline. Once you've seen the prim Mrs. Sutphin stab someone and say “cocksucker,” you've pretty much seen it all.